Youth unemployment remains a massive economic setback in South Africa despite data this week showing more youth were being employed, says transformative development partner Afrika Tikkun.
In an interview with Business Report, after the release of Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey results for the third quarter of this year, it said the youth remained vulnerable in the labour market.
The third quarter of 2023 Stats SA results showed that the number of unemployed youth (15 to 34 years) decreased by 174 000, to 4.6 million, while there was an increase of 237 000 in the number of employed youth, to 6.0 million. This resulted in a decrease in the youth unemployment rate by 1.9 percentage points from 45.3% in quarter two 2023 to 43.4% in quarter three.
Afrika Tikkun said that besides the loss of a productive workforce, which was sitting idle, in the ICT/ digital sector alone, the country was losing more than R8.5 billion in lost export revenue due to more than 28 000 digital and ICT jobs outsourced to other countries.
“More than this, an idle youthful population is a dangerous vehicle for social challenges such as high crime rate, high teenage pregnancy, high gangsterism and so on, that affect the economy as well as cost the state billions to solve using resources that could be deployed elsewhere to drive growth.
“Finally, the population, in turn, depends on the state to keep it from extreme poverty which means that it drives further the agenda of a welfare state. We are a state that keeps the economy constrained rather than growing,” it said.
Afrika Tikkun said the overall reduction in unemployment and, invariably, an increase in employment was welcome news.
“We celebrate the achievement and are grateful to all the sectors who have created the employment opportunities. We, however, remain worried that the scale of change is not commensurate to the scale of the problem. We remain with a high youth unemployment in the country and one of the worst statistics in the world.
“We need an urgent action by all stakeholders to intentionally, deliberately and significantly change the status quo. What we have done as a collective is great but we definitely need to do much more,“ it said.
The youth development institution said that as the country headed to the polls next year, young people were disillusioned, unhappy and not optimistic that voting would change the status quo.
There was a need to increase civic education and show a correlation between a democratic process and meaningful change in young people’s challenges. Right now that was not clear and, therefore, if something did not change drastically, South Africa might see the same apathy as in previous years.
If South Africa wanted to end the cycle of youth unemployment, the country might need a change in attitude and perspective to get to the bottom of its skills gap challenges that continued to feed into rising unemployment.
Afrika Tikkun said that as South Africans saw slight improvements in some aspects of youth unemployment, that was a crucial opportunity for employers to rethink their approach to workforce development.
By embracing a mindset change and acknowledging the value of skills, employers could actively contribute to bridging the gap between available resources and the needs of industries affected by the skills shortage.
“We need to move towards purpose-driven skills development,” it said.
Despite thousands of young people completing skills development and learnership programmes, the rate at which the graduates were being absorbed into the workforce was severely lacking.
The youth developer said that while much of government policy and efforts by the skills and education sector focused on providing as many young people as possible with a wide range of skills and qualifications, employers were struggling to fill vacancies in tech, finance and other growing sectors without hiring from outside South Africa, or struggling to retain the small pool of skilled individuals in the crucial industries.
“One of the obstacle impeding the country’s workforce development environment is the conspicuous lack of co-operation and co-ordination among the various stakeholders who are accountable for providing the youth with necessary skills,” Afrika Tikkun said.
In an effort to foster collaboration and sustainable growth across industries, Afrika Tikkun said it planned to facilitate further initiatives in the coming months.
“We hope to start or facilitate a collaborative movement comprising employers, educators and organisations dedicated to addressing poverty, inequality and employment challenges in South Africa. By leveraging the power of unity, co-ordination and collaboration, Afrika Tikkun aims to create a thriving ecosystem that empowers young individuals and uplifts communities,” it said.
National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) spokesperson Bongekile Skosana said that while youth unemployment in South Africa relative to the rest of the world remained high, there were reasons for optimism.
“In the QLFS on Q2 2021, the youth unemployment for the 15 to 24 age category was 66.5% while 25 to 34 was 46%. In the most recent QLFS, youth unemployment was 58% and 38% respectively. This showcases an 8% drop in each category or 4% per year over the last two years.
“This shows the impact of programmatic interventions such as the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention and the Presidential Employment Stimulus. If we were to continue on this trajectory, youth unemployment could be reduced to under 20% by the year 2030, placing South Africa on par with global standards," Skosana said.
She said that South Africa needed to continue implementing the structural reforms in the economy that resolved the challenges associated with energy, transport and logistics, connectivity and crime.
“This will lead to economic growth, creating more jobs. Programmes such as the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention and the Presidential Employment Stimulus must continue and be scaled up as they provide critical labour market support and transitions to young people. We must continue to invest in micro and small businesses as this will also lead to large scale job creation,” Skosana said.
The youth development agency said South Africa lost the productive capacity and human potential of its youth by leaving them unemployed and on the sidelines of the economy. Young people also did not feel like active citizens and part of the democracy when they were left marginalised and on the sidelines, it said.
The NYDA said it would continue to support the structural reforms being executed through Operation Vulindlela.
“The National Youth Development Agency welcomes the commitment of the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement for continued funding support to the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention.
“Over the last three years the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention and Presidential Employment Stimulus have delivered over one million work opportunities to young people of the country. Detailed progress reports for the programmes can be viewed here: https://www.stateofthenation.gov.za/employment-stimulus-dashboard,” it said.