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YOUTH JOBS OP-ED

Hey politicians, it’s time to pack away the election playbook and get to work

Hey politicians, it’s time to pack away the election playbook and get to work
Election posters for the DA, Rise Mzansi and Build One South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images) | An ANC poster at a bus shelter in Msunduzi, KwaZulu-Natal, on 7 May 2024. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The election discourse about unemployment revolved around which party can create the most new jobs. This narrow focus glossed over the structural nature of South Africa’s unemployment crisis.

Congratulations, you’ve made it. The elections are over, and your party won enough votes to get to Parliament. You spent months on the election trail, dancing, debating and delivering manifestos.

And while you were doing this, we listened, shared our thoughts on TikTok and some among us were taking notes. And by we, we’re talking about South Africa’s youth and those who advocate for them.

The election discourse about unemployment revolved around which party can create the most new jobs. This narrow focus glossed over the structural nature of South Africa’s unemployment crisis.

Here’s what some parties promised: the ANC would create 2.5 million jobs through the Presidential Employment Stimulus, a programme that has been subjected to recent budget cuts, while President Cyril Ramaphosa promised a million jobs each year for five years.

Build One South Africa said there would be a job in every home. The DA’s Economic Plan detailed how 2.5 million jobs would be created for a slim portion of new job seekers, the EFF promised millions of jobs over the next five years, and Rise Mzansi targeted 600,000 permanent jobs in Gauteng.

It goes without saying that we need to create new jobs as part of a strategy to tackle unemployment. But it’s not enough. We also need an intentional shift in macroeconomic policy and systems.

In the months before the elections, Youth Capital spoke to at least 180 people, among them activists and researchers and those working in civil society, about what politicians were not discussing on their campaign trails. Our conversations informed three priorities for tackling youth unemployment over the next five years.

1 Ensure young people have meaningful first-work experiences

In South Africa, eight out of 10 young unemployed people have not had a formal job before because of structural factors that create barriers to accessing earning opportunities. These include the inability to complete their studies and not being tapped into social networks that can lead to economic opportunities.

Public Employment Programmes can help connect young people to their first-work opportunities, albeit in temporary positions. In a country where there is plenty of work to be done to address socioeconomic challenges, but a shortage of private sector investment into funding this work, these programmes provide an entry point into the labour market for young people.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Giving jobless young people an in into the labour market via short-term public employment

They are designed to create work opportunities that address the needs of low-income communities, such as early learning and literacy, or waste management. But these programmes also promote social cohesion and community pride, and stimulate local economic activity.

This is why we need consistent implementation of these programmes with secure funding for at least three to five years, and robust monitoring and evaluation.

2 Ensure young people have the skills for the 21st-century workplace

In some vocational courses (National Certificate: Vocational), only 10% of students finish in the prescribed time. There is no other way to put it: vocational and technical training that meets the current labour market’s needs requires an overhaul of our post-school sector.

Such a restructuring of the system has the potential to create clearer pathways to qualifications that young people can use in today’s world, as well as efficient accreditation for training institutes, work-based learning (a current bottleneck in vocational training) and the issuing of student qualifications.

Young people have the right to a transparent and efficient skilling framework supported by government institutions and endorsed by industry leaders, and state financial support that meets their funding needs with timely payments.

3 Create entry points into the labour market

Small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) are poised to provide young people with jobs. Between 2016 and 2019, these businesses created more than 1,800 jobs per day. This trend can only continue if there is a supportive environment for SMMEs to grow, whether formal or informal.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Buying food or looking for work — stark choice facing young job seekers in SA

We need legislation that supports informal traders, and we need more businesses to access state-sponsored incentives such as the Employment Tax Incentive. Our research shows that only one in 10 SMMEs are benefiting from this incentive.

In addition, the Department of Higher Education and Training and the National Youth Development Agency must identify the relevant skills that industries demand and that match the needs of our economy. This is critical to direct efforts for the benefit of young people who don’t have a matric certificate or formal work experience.

So, to the politicians who are celebrating their election victories and those lamenting their losses, we want to remind you that it’s hard for young job seekers today to access opportunities.

Creating new jobs is great. We’ll take it. But it’s not enough. DM

Kristal Duncan-Williams, Clotilde Angelucci, Fentse Malatji and Siba Nobandla are from Youth Capital, a campaign advocating for policy change to solve youth unemployment. Read about their work here.

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