President Cyril Ramaphosa File picture: Matthews Baloyi/African News Agency (ANA)

Durban - President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday urged companies to join the youth employment service initiative which held mutual benefits for the youth and the companies themselves.  

The greatest challenge to social development in South Africa – and to economic development – was the high rate of youth unemployment, Ramaphosa said at a Volvo Trucks youth development event at the Volvo assembly plant in Amanzimtoti, south of Durban. 

He applauded Volvo for making youth development such an integral part of its social investment programme.

"We all share a responsibility to develop the skills of young South Africans and ensure that these skills are suited to the needs of our economy, now and into the future. This means that the basic education system needs to retain more learners through to matric and to improve the quality of the education they receive.

"It means that we need to ensure greater access to universities and colleges for the children of the poor and working class. The phased introduction of free higher education from this year promises to contribute to a skills revolution in this country," he said.

This needed to be accompanied by a concerted effort to involve the private sector in supporting and designing curricula, particularly at technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges and in certain university faculties. It was necessary to ensure that these institutions produced the kind of skills needed in the economy and that students had opportunities to work in these environments during the course of their study.

"We all share a responsibility to ensure that young people gain the confidence, capabilities, and exposure to succeed in the working environment. That is why we have prioritised the development of pathways into work for young people. This includes the youth employment service initiative, which we launched together with our social partners in March," Ramaphosa said.

This initiative, which provided work experience opportunities for young people on a scale never before seen in the country, was the result of effective collaboration between business, government, and labour. It demonstrated the willingness of business to be part of finding solutions to youth unemployment.

"We call on companies to join the programme, not only to increase the chances of employment for many thousands of young people, but also so that the companies themselves can develop the young workforce that they will need to expand and grow. The success of our efforts will be judged by the extent to which they create more employment and education opportunities for young people," he said.

Government had undertaken to build further on the collaboration with business and labour to restore confidence and prevent any further decline in South Africa's sovereign rating. This would involve making hard decisions to close the fiscal gap, stabilise debt, and restore state-owned enterprises to health.

"We are working to address the decline over many years of our manufacturing capacity, which has deeply affected employment and exports. We are working to re-industrialise on a scale and at a pace that draws millions of job seekers into the economy. That is why we are making a major push this year to encourage significant new investment in our economy," he said.

"Culminating in an investment conference in October, we have deployed four special envoys on investment to meet with potential investors, to brief them on the advantages of investing in South Africa, and to alert them to the many diverse opportunities that exist across the economy. They will be supported by key agencies like Invest SA, which is responsible for promoting and facilitating investment the country. We are concentrating on the types of investment that create employment and which adds value to the natural resources that we have in abundance.

"We are concentrating on the types of investment that will contribute to the growth of a diversified economy that is not dependent on the export of raw commodities. We are concentrating on the types of investment that will create shared value, producing sustainable financial gains for investors and broader benefits for their employees, suppliers, communities and other stakeholders. South Africa is a country with boundless potential. Through working together, with commitment and diligence, I have no doubt that we will succeed in realising that potential," Ramaphosa said.