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Youth Month: Unemployment, challenges and strategies for the future

Nicholas Ndogena, an unemployed father of three begs for money and a job at a busy Sandton intersection. Picture: John Woodroof

Nicholas Ndogena, an unemployed father of three begs for money and a job at a busy Sandton intersection. Picture: John Woodroof

Published Jun 20, 2023


The youth unemployment crisis in South Africa has reached alarming proportions, with the latest statistics revealing a staggering rate of 62.1% in the first quarter of this year.

This dire situation denies young individuals the opportunity to participate meaningfully in the labour market, leading to increased poverty, health challenges, crime, social instability, and political unrest.

The high youth unemployment rate has significant implications for the South African economy, hindering its potential for sustainable growth and development.

Ashlesha Singh, a senior Talent Management Specialist at Sandock Austral Shipyards, one of Africa’s biggest shipbuilding and repair firms, delves into the primary factors contributing to this crisis. She discusses the role of the education system, skill gaps, emerging job sectors, and potential solutions to address this pressing issue.

– Factors Contributing to High Youth Unemployment

According to Singh, poverty and poor health, especially among young people in rural areas, hinder their ability to access education and secure employment opportunities.

The link between poverty and health further exacerbates the youth unemployment rate, as companies consider individuals' health as a contributing factor to productivity.

Additionally, social issues such as crime, gang involvement, and teenage pregnancies lead to high dropout rates, limiting the skills and confidence of young people seeking employment.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has further aggravated the youth unemployment crisis, resulting in job losses and reduced opportunities.

“Young job seekers face challenges in terms of travel costs and limited access to computers and the internet for job applications.

“Exploitative practices, including fraudulent job advertisements and corrupt recruitment processes, further hinder their chances of securing employment,” she said.

Ashlesha Singh, a senior Talent Management Specialist at Sandock Austral Shipyards. Picture: Supplied

Education and Skill Development

Singh said the education system played a crucial role in preparing South African youth for the job market.

However, there are gaps to address.

Singh highlights the need for career guidance in schools to help students make informed decisions about their education and future occupations.

“The curriculum should be aligned with the demands of the labour market, integrating work experience programmes to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

“To meet the demands of the future workforce, subjects like artificial intelligence, robotics, and data mining should be prioritised,” she said.

Skill mismatches persist in South Africa, particularly in basic numeracy and literacy skills, technical and vocational skills, and soft skills such as communication and leadership.

Singh suggests implementing comprehensive skills-bridging programmes that include life-skills training, career guidance, and opportunities for technical and vocational qualifications, as well as practical internships.

Collaboration between tertiary institutions, industry bodies, and recruitment agencies is crucial to facilitate job placements for graduates.

– Impact of Technological Advancements on Youth Unemployment

Technological advancements, such as automation and artificial intelligence, present both opportunities and challenges for youth employment.

Singh acknowledges that automation and AI may lead to unemployment among basic-skilled workers, as routine tasks become automated.

However, these advancements can also lead to increased productivity, new market opportunities, and higher wages for employed youth.

Sectors such as agriculture, renewable energy, digital technology, and environmental sustainability hold promise for job creation and reducing youth unemployment.

Industries Prone to High Youth Unemployment

During the Covid-19 pandemic, several industries, including construction, experienced job losses, impacting the overall unemployment rate, particularly among young individuals.

Singh emphasises the importance of transformation in the construction industry. This allows for the inclusion of previously disadvantaged groups, such as women and youth, at regional and project levels.

The construction industry offers opportunities across various qualifications and skill levels, providing potential employment for unemployed youth.

Partnerships to Address Youth Unemployment

Sandock Austral Shipyards has undertaken several initiatives and partnerships to address youth unemployment. These include apprenticeship traineeships, graduate placement programmes, mentorship programmes, and internship opportunities.

At a national level, there needs to be collaboration and coordination between the government, private sector, and education institutions to assist unemployed youths, financially supporting training programmes, and participate in planning for skills acquisition.