The alarming rise in youth unemployment and the disturbingly high levels of young people who work, but still live in poverty, shows how difficult it will be to reach the global goal to end poverty by 2030, unless we redouble our efforts to achieve sustainable economic growth and decent work.
The latest global research also highlights wide disparities that exist between young women and men in the labour market. The poor quality of employment continues to disproportionately affect youth, albeit with considerable regional differences.
For example, sub-Saharan Africa continues to suffer the highest youth working poverty rates globally.
Having said that, it is significant that this indaba is hosted against the backdrop of Youth Month, with all what it symbolises, in South Africa. It is equally important that this gathering is firmly in sync with the vision of Mama Albertina Sisulu and our former and first President of a democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela. We all remember, that it was during their youth and formative years, that their leadership qualities were first in changing the course of the struggle in South Africa.
This reality confirms that it is the youth that must be in the forefront of shaping the future they want. Our job, as the older generation, is to create conditions for our young people to blossom. This we cannot achieve, unless the young people are placed at the core of policy formulation processes in South Africa, which incidentally is one of the five desired objectives of this indaba. I want to touch on some science and technology dimensions that are vital in this discourse.
First, behind most recent science and technological innovations were young people. At the centre of all successful economies is the focus of making things. This starts with strong research and development, with science and technology as the means to do so. It follows, therefore, that if we want growth, development and human progress, this indaba is a good starting point. If we do this right, South Africa could shift from being generally a country of consumers, to one that makes things and not just that, but high value-added products.
Focusing our energies on the youth is a tried and tested formula to building prosperous nations. You will recall that Mark Shuttleworth was still a relatively young student, studying finance and IT at the University of Cape Town, when he founded an internet commerce security company in 1996, which he later sold for more than R3billion. Bill Gates was also very young when he founded Microsoft, likewise Elon Reeve Musk, when he co-founded Zip2, a web software company.
We, therefore, should be proud of this approach of targeting young people in science and technology. It is possible that in this very gathering, there are many Bill Gates, Elon Musks, Mark Shuttleworths in the making. I call on all of us to give them wings so that they can reach their fullest potential.
The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
Already we are observing incredible changes in the labour market landscape as a result of digitisation. Production methods are changing at a frightening speed, and keeping up is proving difficult for many countries, South Africa included. When technology gave birth to innovations like Uber, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is bringing even more bizarre things, like cars that drive themselves, drones that can deliver a pizza to your doorstep, surgery that can be conducted without a physical contact between the doctor and the patient, 3D printing and many more.
Clearly it is disrupting almost every industry in every country, which leads many of us to truly believe that the future is firmly on science, technology and innovation. It is either that we are ready to deal with this harsh reality, or we perish like dinosaurs, or the Luddites of the industrial revolution.
This programme is, therefore, not only about today and now, but more about survival and the future prosperity of this nation. These young people hold the promise and the hope for millions of our people, and a profound statement that we stand ready to tackle whatever scientific or technological challenge that may confront our nation.
Let me zero-in on one of the key objectives of this indaba, which talks to what we do as the Department of Labour. That is: “To provide a space for young people to forge and strengthen linkages with policy makers” Many of you may not be aware that we are required by law to table every proposed labour law and/or amendment at the National Economic Development and Labour Council before they could be signed into law. Whilst the law also requires that Fiscal and Monetary Policies, Trade and Industrial Policies, Developmental policies to be tabled at National Economic Development and Labour Council(Nedlac), it is more stringent on labour laws.
How is this relevant for the young people who yearn for direct participation in shaping policy in this country? Among the constituencies that participate at Nedlac is what we call a Nedlac Community Constituency, which includes representatives of the National Youth Council.
It is significant that as we speak, the current Overall Convenor of the Nedlac Community Constituency is Thulani Tshefutha, who is the current president of the National Youth Council.
I strongly believe that it will be through this platform that the voice of the youth will be heard on matters relating to policy formulation.
There are already existing platforms where the youth can influence and shape policy. Maybe what we need to do is to find ways to link the young people with these structures.
The Department of Labour has introduced the Employment Services Act, which establishes public employment services.
The employment services play a catalytic role in enhancing the employability prospects of work seekers and those seeking career counselling and training opportunities. I suggest that you familiarise yourselves with how our employment services work and the programmes that they provide.
While generally speaking, the government should ramp-up its efforts of creating opportunities for our young people, young people themselves should show an appetite by grabbing these opportunities wherever they present themselves.
I want to leave you with one message in this regard, and that is, you need to conquer the fear that science and maths are difficult subjects.
Yes, these subjects may not be easy, but they should not be seen as being different from any other subjects.
To the young and future leaders, let me leave you with this as food for thought, and I quote: “If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Just think about it.
* This is an edited version of the speech.
- BUSINESS REPORT