The South African government has neglected its role of coordinating skills development in line with the economy. From 1994, there were many positions to be filled in government, which was previously dominated by a white civil service during the apartheid era. The civil service also had to be expanded to cater for many other duties and territories that hitherto did not appear on the radar of the national government.
Abroad, the Department of Foreign Affairs, today known as the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, had to open many more embassies and negotiate cooperation deals as the country opened up to the world. After 1994 there was a glut of jobs in the service sector and many graduates quickly found work. As people flocked towards services, little was done to train people for the manufacturing sector.
We have reached a point where graduates are finding it difficult to get work in the service sector and at the same time the economy is not growing at a fast pace. The government, on the other hand, has signed many bilateral and multilateral treaties with other countries, which means there is a plethora of cheap imports which have destroyed industries such as clothing and steel. To deal with high unemployment a number of things need to change quickly.
The government needs to create a conducive environment for the manufacturing sector. There is a need to develop skills for such an initiative to take off. Currently, there is a mismatch between what the universities and Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges are producing and what the economy needs now and in the near future.
The government regularly convenes meetings with different entities, such as the National Economic Development and Labour Council and Business Unity South Africa. These gatherings need to be expanded into a forum that will develop a five- or 10-year plan for skills. They need to indicate the kind of skills needed to improve sectors in which there is a shortage.
This means the government needs to plan carefully and make a realistic assessment of where we are as a country. This will have to feed into TVET colleges and universities through the Department of Higher Education to improve their capacity to do orientation and encourage students to go where there are clear gaps. The Department of Basic Education must also be involved as there are career days that need to be hosted at different high schools with the relevant industries. These career days help high school pupils, as they prepare for life after matric, to know where the gaps in the economy are. This will help avoid overproduction in one area and underproduction in others.
This also means TVET colleges and universities need to improve their capacities to train graduates who are able to hit the ground running – and if they don’t get a job, at least they can start small businesses. But the environment also needs to be conducive for those graduates and only the government can help ensure that. This means giving graduates the necessary support from both the government and the financial sector, and making it easier for graduates who have the capacity. This also means all graduates from all races must be treated equally. In South Africa today, it is easier to get a loan to buy a car than to get finance to start a business.
Mentorship is also a big problem in this country. We can look at improving the “take a child to work” campaign, which is already opening up many avenues. Let’s look at graduates who get internships or learnerships. There have been allegations that graduates are just made to do photocopies throughout their learnership. Only a few do the real work and get proper mentorship to prepare them for the real work once they get something that is long term.
I strongly believe that we also need national youth service to be compulsory after completing Grade 12 – it is about understanding the importance of serving and giving young people different skills. More importantly, it is about teaching them the importance of being patriotic. A national youth service will help ensure that, after matric, we don’t find young people who are not able to go to TVET colleges or universities loitering in the streets and not gaining any skills at all. It will help them to be part of the economy.
Finally, the government is not providing a basic income grant for its citizens and there are few jobs being created. This means young people who might never have a job and don’t have any skills will just have to wait until they are 60 to get a pension since it is tough to get a job. The latest Statistics South Africa report is clear that many people have given up looking for jobs.
It is time for the government to really coordinate the skills development programmes that will help more people to find employment in industries that have shortages due to lack of coordination by the government. It is unacceptable to have a youth unemployment rate above 70% and an economy that is not growing. It is unsustainable to expect people to live on a R350 grant while the cost of living is too high and the government is not giving people a basic income grant. Today, in urban areas such as Gauteng, you can’t even rent a backyard room for R350 a month in any township. DM