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Too many graduates are picky and prefer to wait on government promises rather than just getting started, writes Abram Molelemane.

Cape Town - With South Africa’s youth ranking third in terms of the highest unemployment rate of people aged 15 to 24, one would think that they would jump at any job opportunity that presents itself. Unfortunately, this is not the case; our youth are too picky. I should know, I am one, too.

Youth unemployment in South Africa is a great concern; in fact, the urgency of addressing this challenge has prompted a number of organisations – including Harambee, South African Youth Council, Stanley Hutcheson and Associates, Pinotage Youth Development Academy, Indibano, Fetola, and others – to come up with programmes to tackle this crisis.

While these initiatives are exciting, what bothers me is that we are constantly ranting and whining about the government’s failure to create jobs, yet, when working opportunities present themselves, we are quick to say “I don’t want that kind of job”, or, “this is not what I studied for”. It doesn’t make sense, but this is what I am seeing increasingly.

Although there are no reasonable answers to why we are too picky, I would like to suggest a few. First, the root of this challenge stems from the head – the government; we have been fed so many promises of job creation, which has led to many of my peers sitting back and expecting jobs to blossom at any minute.

I find the whole idea funny and shocking at the same time that many young people remain hopeful the government will shower them with jobs. This is absurd. I don’t see that happening any time soon, which makes it important now more than ever for our government to face the facts and set the record straight.

The government needs to be blunt and tell us it is not meeting its targets of job creation, and therefore the youth should get out of their comfort zone and seek alternatives to empower themselves. We are each our own product and the opportunities are in front of us.

Second, while the amount of time and money spent studying is a huge investment, many job seekers tend to have unrealistic expectations, especially when it comes to getting a high position or salary from the start. When reality kicks in, it often leaves them with two choices – to study further, or to look for better-paying jobs.

Unfortunately, neither of these choices meet the one important requirement of today’s market – work experience. The graduate market is tougher and more competitive than ever, meaning students must work harder to develop the business skills needed to make them stand out from the crowd.

A study conducted by Pepsi found that among 537 employers, two thirds preferred to recruit graduates with industry-related work experience over those doing straight degree courses.

That said, I believe it is good to have an educational qualification, but this does not mean one will have a smooth ride to the top. We all have to start at the bottom.

Lastly, with the media constantly bombarding us with news about the rare few who live glitzy lives and appear to have everything they wish for, it seems just about everyone you meet these days believes they are entitled to that life, without working for it.

On the other hand, I see scores of qualified graduates with degrees of all kinds working in relatively low-level clerical positions; these people were presented with opportunities and they seized them, they have decided to take it one step at a time. I should know… I was one of them.

I once read of a woman who graduated at one of the finest universities in the US with a high Grade Point Average (GPA). When she graduated, she wanted to live in Los Angeles but the only way she could live there was to first find a job. It was tough, so she took a lowly clerical position. Over the next few years, she watched, learnt and progressed and is today one of the top people in her field.

This story is similar to my own job-hunting experiences. When I graduated, I thought my qualification was enough to get me a job – but I was wrong. In truth, work experience counts a lot for any first-time worker, especially if you’ve just graduated.

I learnt this lesson while doing my internship with Fetola. My experience made me realise most of what I learnt at varsity had little value in the working environment.

During my internship not only did I gain useful working experience, but this helped improve my journalism skills and adapt to the culture of the media industry.

I was finally getting an idea of what the day-to-day work of my career would be like, the tasks I would be expected to perform, the type of people I would be expected to engage with, and the manner I would go about doing that.


I am now involved with a new project called GAP or Graduate Asset Programme, which is aimed at reducing graduate unemployment and growing the small and medium enterprise sector.

By helping place thousands of capable and willing unemployed graduates into internships, GAP assists host businesses to gain much-needed skills and the graduates to gain experiential learning.

Since the launch at the end of last year, we have had thousands of graduates and hundreds of businesses register on our web portal, which matches them according to compatibility.

What startles me most about some of the graduates who are registered is that when we call them with exciting internship opportunities, they turn them down. The reasons they give are either that the post does not pay their desired salary, or that they don’t want to work in a small business, or in an industry not in line with their qualification.

These jaw-dropping responses, coming from a demographic whose unemployment rate is at 47 percent has turned the sympathy I once had for my unemployed peers into exasperation.

It is worth reminding ourselves that it is every South African’s right to have an opportunity to work.

However, this right comes with responsibilities, including the willingness to start from the bottom and to seek the experience that enables us to meet the requirements of today’s market.

The days of waiting on the government are over. We need to empower ourselves, and if this means starting our own businesses so be it, just as long as we are not sitting around waiting for something better to happen.

We are South Africa’s future, and as much as it is the state’s responsibility to move the country forward, it is ours to step out of our comfort zone and make use of every opportunity that will empower us; our future depends on our attitude.

* Abram Molelemane is with the Graduate Asset Programme (GAP), which is aimed at reducing graduate unemployment and growing the small and medium enterprise sector.

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

Cape Argus