Panyaza Lesufi, MEC for Education in Gauteng. Picture: Oupa Mokoena
When the youth are not part of the labour market, the more difficult and costly it is to join productive employment resulting in a number of important social implications related to exclusion, including susceptibility to anti-social behaviour, juvenile delinquency, and social unrest.

As young people face growing challenges in finding employment, they become desperate to land any job. Consequently, many accept part-time or temporary work that does not match their education or expectations.

Youth work empowers young people to participate in community and society, and to have their voices heard in relation to the decisions that affect their lives. A job gives them the tools to act as active members of their communities, build up positive relationships with adults who can be role models and who can give young people a safe space, support and guidance. Most importantly, youth work services provide the critical educational spaces to learn for life.

As we bid Youth Month goodbye, let us remember that we are facing the risk of losing a whole generation to unemployment. The consequences are despair, crime and drugs.

So how did we end up with this high youth unemployment - 40percent - and underemployment?

Various research think tanks, including The World Bank and African Development Bank, believe there have been various issues concerning youth employment that have not been well addressed, including:

* Weak implementation of commitments and plans.

* Efforts that are fragmented and unco-ordinated.

* Scarcity of knowledge, information, and lessons learned.

* Absence of regular, reliable, and harmonised labour market data on youth employment.

* Poor participation levels of youths in employment policies and programs.

* Lack of involvement of the private sector.

* Insubstantial focus on the informal sector.

* Inadequate demand-side responses.

The truth is, the cost to the economy of leaving young people with no jobs is immense. While some will overcome the huge challenges they face to go on and contribute to society, many more will end up depending on social grants or claiming unemployment benefit or single-parent supports, and with the increased reliance on public health services that are a feature of low educational attainment. It all adds up to ever- increasing pressure on the public purse and that’s before we consider the human cost of letting young people fall through the cracks.

Indeed, success, sustainability, and scale in reaching full youth employment will not be possible without collaboration involving government and public institutions and private sector at all levels.


So what are the frontier areas to support opportunities for young people to drive global prosperity, foster global co-ordination, learn by collecting and using evidenced-based knowledge, and leverage by using resources to scale-up proven solutions?

What we need is a coherent strategy combining supportive macroeconomic policies, strengthened school-to-work transitions and well-designed support to the unemployed youth.

We must alter who our young people view as role models and instil a sense of self-worth. Part of this change must come from within our communities. We cannot sit back and continue to let the futures of millions of young men and women simply slip through the cracks.

Unless we can change these negative mind-sets and give our young people viable alternatives, we’ll continue to see increases in unemployment, arrests and dropouts among our youth.

We need effective skills development programmes, in order to fill the skills gap, opportunities for young men and women; entrepreneurship and self-employment and quality jobs.

Given a choice, almost all children will choose positive, constructive activities over negative ones. The catch? Not every child has the same interests. One may want to be a film star, another an artist, and still another a pilot and many more. Captivating someone’s interest is not always easy.

For example, the Gauteng Province and private sector partners recently launched the Tshepo One Million programme to provide unemployed youth opportunities through skills training, job placement and entrepreneurship development.

The major international and local companies that have committed to work with the provincial government to provide one million young people with training opportunities in digital skills; internships, learnerships, enterprise and supplier development and jobs; skills and opportunities in information communication technology; value chain, especially data analytics; township panel beating shops serving drivable repairs; providing links to township marketplace platform; asset finance as support to township marketplace platforms; online training programmes and writing skills and computer-aided research.

Some employers often complain that too many prospective employees today are not employable.

Now employers have an opportunity to hand pick student talent and, potentially later, they can hire someone they and their staff already know and have groomed.


I have always believed that entrepreneurship is the key to both personal and national progress. But despite many success stories, our society is still designed to train our young people to work as employees. We need to push for a radical change in the way our people, especially the youth, view wealth creation and progress.

Our young men and women must remember that entrepreneurship is not about working for a big corporation, dressing in a suit and tie or some hip corporate attire, sitting behind a desk, buying the latest smartphones when you get your bonus. That is not success.

Rather it is when you build something from the ground up with your blood, sweat and tears. When you can set up something that can provide you profit, give other people jobs and help in building our nation. That is success.

Indeed, youth unemployment is not only a serious problem, but a security and moral crisis as well. As such, no expenses should be spared to deal with this crisis. Temporary solutions will only delay the day of reckoning.

Indeed, each of us can and does play an important role in the healthy development of our children. Perhaps the most satisfying aspect is that all children can succeed.

No matter how challenging this call is, let us remember that each young men or women’s chances of success can be improved if we provide more opportunities to increase the number and depth of opportunities in his or her life.

Let us give our young people opportunities to succeed.

Panyaza Lesufi is Gauteng MEC for Education.