Is urbanisation the answer to youth unemployment?

Jake Willis, CEO of Lulaway, a social enterprise focused on youth employment solutions.

Jake Willis, CEO of Lulaway, a social enterprise focused on youth employment solutions.

Published Oct 22, 2019


It is estimated that in just over 10 years, approximately 71% of the South African population will be urbanised – a substantial leap from the 63% documented in 2016. With the pace at which people are relocating to major centres, proper planning and vision will be required to transition infrastructure, resources and services to cope with the influx. 

Jake Willis, CEO of  Lulaway, a social enterprise focused on youth employment solutions, says that people are travelling to metropolitan areas to pursue employment and hopefully success and wealth.

For many this remains a dream, as establishing themselves in a new environment can be very challenging. “Sadly, the dream is derailed very quickly as securing employment and housing is not always as easy as one would think,” warns Willis.

Willis says that the move to urban centres for the majority of South Africans can be successful with the proper support from both public and private sectors. He cites China as a good example and says that the East Asian hub is currently experiencing the largest and fastest industrialisation and urbanisation in the world. 

“China is leading the charge when it comes to participation in the global economy thanks to the meteoric rise in urban workers joining Chinese industry in the major centres. In the past four decades the rate of urbanisation in China has increased from 17.9% to 58.5% in 2018. Over this period a total of 640 million people migrated from rural to urban areas-equal to 46% of China's population.

“We’ve seen that developing and relocating major industrial operations has not been successful in large-scale job creation in South Africa, and as such copious amounts of people wish to, and choose to, migrate to the big centres often without a clear plan for employment. 

Willis says that it’s this reality that led Lulaway to partner with the Transport Education Training Authority (TETA) in a labour activation programme. As part of the project Lulaway will be recruiting 120 individuals from the Free State, North West and KwaZulu-Natal to participate in a training and experiential work programme. 

“The partnership means that men and women are now being supported in relocating from outlying areas and have the opportunity to become integrated into the workforce, primarily in Johannesburg, as a start.

"It’s the critical understanding of the challenges that these people face when arriving in South Africa’s big cities that drove us to get this partnership up and running. We’re aiming to not only provide employment but also support their housing requirements and assist in getting them settled, increasing their chance of success in retaining employment in the long-term” says Willis.

Candidates selected to take part in the programme will be allocated safe, comfortable and convenient accommodation, so that they are easily and affordably able to commute to their respective places of work. 

Accommodation will be provided by Afhco, the leading provider of affordable housing and retail spaces in Johannesburg inner-city, at a subsidised rate. They will be given a 12-month working contract whereby they will learn business administration skills in a sector with actual employment demands, that intends to secure them employment after the contract period. 

“We’d like to affect long-term systemic change by enabling youth job prospects in the urban centres which are the economic hub of the country and assist the candidates in supporting their family members back home, as well as start a new life,” says Willis. 

“We believe that 95% of the candidates from this project will remain employed following the programme which ultimately means that we’ve helped to take someone that previously had no job prospects into the first stages of a lifelong career.

“Urbanisation is critical to the upliftment of the South African economy through increased job creation. By working together with stakeholders such as TETA we are able to create sustainable employment opportunities,” says Willis.

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