SIGNS: For many young South Africans, studying towards a trade could be a good way to ensure a more stable future, says the writer. 
Picture: EPA
South Africa’s youth face various challenges when it comes to employment. Skills development, a slowing economy and a growing population make finding a job a daunting task. 

In May Statistics SA released its Quarterly Labour Force Survey, which revealed that one in three young South Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 were disengaged from the labour market.

Put another way, 32.4% of the 10.3 million people in that age group were “not in employment, education or training in the first quarter of 2018”. That’s 3.3 million young people sitting at home, idle.

Unemployment is a structural issue which has seen little improvement in recent years and is one of the four critical dimensions impeding the country’s ability to improve socio-economic well-being. The other three being education, income inequality and health care.

Poor education results in a lack of skills, which contributes to high unemployment. High unemployment fosters income inequality and slow economic growth, which in turn limit access to, and funding for, education; access to and funding for health care are similarly imperilled.

Unemployment among the youth is an even more complicated and layered challenge.

South Africa’s youth presents the best opportunity for addressing ingrained poverty and socio-economic challenges in the country.

An employed, and economically active youth, represents the best opportunity for long-term sustained economic growth.

While the reality is that employment opportunities remain limited, there are ways that young people can make themselves more employable or create employment opportunities.

* Entrepreneurship as a way to create jobs:

Most young people don’t think of entrepreneurship as a career but starting, and successfully managing, your own business will not only ensure you of an income; it could lead to job creation for other people in your community.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitors 2017/2018 report, total early-stage entrepreneurial activity in South Africa is at 11%, 4.1% points higher than 2016’s 6.9%. This is the highest activity level of people taking steps to start a new business since 2013.

While this is positive, South Africa’s Small Medium and Micro Enterprises space remains constrained by poor access to credit, bureaucratic red tape, and policies that discourage entrepreneurship. Governments and the private sector need to examine ways to ensure that these barriers to entry are dismantled, especially when it comes to empowering young people.

For the youth, identifying an opportunity to provide a service or product in their community is just the first step. Growing and nurturing a business takes patience and skill.

* Fighting unemployment and creating new skills through vocational training:

There is an obvious need for South Africa to strengthen its vocational training. This country needs more artisans and people in technical jobs. Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) has the potential to both close skills gaps and reduce unemployment.

According to a report from global skills development company City and Guilds Group, a survey of South African chief executives found that 36% were extremely concerned about the availability of key skills, compared to a global average of 17%.

Minister of Higher Education and Training Naledi Pandor recently announced that TVET colleges were at the forefront of providing education and training options for our youth and that the bursary allocation for TVET colleges has increased from R2.437billion in 2017 to R5.164bn in 2018.

Pandor also announced that for 2018/19 an additional R2.5bn will be made available for student fees, including travel and accommodation.

Unfortunately, there is a lingering perception among the youth that TVET colleges are inferior to traditional tertiary institutions. Last year the government admitted that TVET institutions had been neglected, but this positive step by the minister hopefully signals a shift in attitude.

For many young people in South Africa studying towards a trade could be a good way to ensure a stable future.

* Digital skills to meet future demand:

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution rolls on, the demand for digital skills among the youth grows exponentially.

According to a study by jobs portal Adzuna, technology positions make up seven of the top 10 rarest job skills in South Africa.

Technology is changing every aspect of business. A study by data analytics firm IDC, “State of Digital Transformation in South Africa”, showed that skills remain a challenge for businesses and companies which do not have the required skills in-house, and have to develop them.

Access to skills training is, of course, a challenge but many private companies are reaching out and partnering with government to address this. In March, President Cyril Ramaphosa launched the YES initiative. This takes the form of a partnership between the government business labour and civil society and aims to create 500000 jobs a year for youth.

Technology is pervasive, and apart from it being a growing employment opportunity for youth, it is also an important skill which employers will demand from all their employees in the future.

Young people who want to be employable cannot ignore the importance of digital literacy as part of their training and education.

Solving South Africa’s youth unemployment will take a long-term concerted effort underpinned by strong economic growth.

It falls on the youth, however to take proactive steps to ensure they can play a role in meeting the challenge.

Approaching employment from an innovative or disruptive stand point is one way of doing this.

The other is arming themselves with the skills and knowledge which will make them employable not just tomorrow but for decades to come.

* Hans Kuipers is a partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group in Joburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus