Growing number of hurdles to youth employment leave many despondent in SA — but there is hope

Growing number of hurdles to youth employment leave many despondent in SA — but there is hope
Thousands of South Africans gather at the Nasrec Expo Centre on June 16 - Youth Day - to submit CVs for jobs as advertised by the provincial government. (Photo: Kabelo Mokoena)

Numerous structural barriers deny young people access to the formal sector, particularly for youth living outside of large cities. Furthermore, recruitment experts note the increasing mismatch between available talent and available jobs. 

When Amogelang Moletsane (26) dropped out of civil engineering for financial reasons, she was embarrassed. She had to move back home from university, and she recalls desperately looking for jobs in a market that wouldn’t hire her.

“It was depressing,” she said. “It took a whole year to get over it.”

Moletsane’s story is not unique. South Africa’s youth unemployment rate is a staggering 46.5%, according to Statistics SA.

This statistic points to a lack of job growth, but is also indicative of a system that fails to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Meagan Naidoo (19) loves working with children and teaching them about mental, physical and spiritual health. She is technically unemployed but runs her own business selling paintings, jewellery and journals. Naidoo is financially independent. She hustles hard for her business and uses the income to buy toiletries and clothes.

She’s also trying to pack her CV with online short courses and volunteer opportunities so she can show future employers her strengths and passions. She aspires to be a therapist or art therapist but is still figuring out what courses she meets the requirements for and which she can afford.  

“At this point, I still do not know what I want to study,” Naidoo said. “Because I have all of these talents and creativity … it’s like I’m still seeking where I fit in, in a certain career field.”

Many structural barriers keep young people out of the formal sector. Anele Ngwenya, the head of stakeholder engagements at Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, said many young people who lived outside major cities did not have job networks and might not know about the opportunities that do exist.

It cost on average R1,500 to look for work, Ngwenya said, with costs such as transport and printing CVs. Data, which is needed to access online tools such as LinkedIn, was also pricey.

Another of the country’s challenges, Ngwenya said, was a mismatch between talent and jobs that are hiring.

“Unemployment rates have been growing largely because the economy is not growing fast enough to create the jobs that are required,” said Professor Lauren Graham, director of the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg. “And even when we have had economic growth, that hasn’t always been job-led or job-intensive economic growth.”

But even if the job market suddenly boomed, there would still be high youth unemployment. For Graham, the key is treating young people as whole people and addressing the many barriers they face.

“It’s not that our youth [are] lazy. It’s not that our youth want to be spoon-fed. Sometimes it’s that we grew up in educational systems that do not support the kind of community we are born in,” Moletsane said.

Ngwenya said Harambee had “sunrise sectors” it thought would have great job growth and prospects for young people. These include finance, social care services, agriculture, business services, digital communications and energy-related projects.

There was a strong focus on the formal sector, she said, but artisanal work sectors were often overlooked. “Like being an electrician, being a plumber. Young people just need to know that those are areas where they can thrive as well.”

The informal sector is also on the rise, with many young people becoming micro-­entrepreneurs, such as doing nails or opening a car wash.

But before chasing down any job, Naidoo recommends you ensure you’re mentally healthy. You needed to be strong enough to make sure rejection did not lead to self-doubt, she advised.

Moletsane’s advice is to make sure your self-worth isn’t tied to your job. Instead, she recommends finding value in the skills, talent and personality you have to offer.

“It’s depressing … to not have money, but it’s much worse if you think you are useless, if you think you can never amount to anything,” Moletsane said. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted


This article is free to read.

Sign up for free or sign in to continue reading.

Unlike our competitors, we don’t force you to pay to read the news but we do need your email address to make your experience better.

Nearly there! Create a password to finish signing up with us:

Please enter your password or get a sign in link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for signing up.

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.8% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.2% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.2% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.2%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options