The unemployment rate of 27.7% in the first quarter was up 1.2 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2016.
These figures challenge us as the ANC and the government to make an effort in insuring that the projections outlined in the National Development Plan is achieved in the shortest possible time. Job creation and economic stimulus remain our number one target in attracting private sector investment in our industrialisation projects and economy in general. These plans are outlined in our various policy statements - the Industrial Policy Action Plan, Operation Phakisa, the Green Economy, etc.
Job creation begins with a skilled workforce and requires policies geared towards fostering an environment in which there is a cohesive approach in terms of education outcomes to grow our human capital.
We need to, therefore, look at alternative career options for our young people. The government continues to encourage more young learners to train to become artisans.
Statistics show that South Africa has a shortfall of about 40 000 qualified artisans - this is measured against the annual production rate of 13 000 qualified artisans.
According to the 2014 Development Indicators Report, artisans completing vocational training reached an average of 18 000.
The skills shortage is a key obstacle to economic growth, job creation and business expansion.
The ANC has pointed out that the NDP - which aims to ensure that all South Africans attain a decent standard of living through the elimination of poverty and reduction of inequality by 2030 - states that the country should produce more than 30 000 qualified artisans a year if the labour demand were to be met.
Infrastructure expansion, economic growth and overall development require specific skills. We need more engineers, more artisans, more qualified teachers and health professionals, to name but a few. We encourage young people to look beyond academic universities for further education.
One of the most integral parts of advancing prosperity is a society in which small businesses and co-operatives flourish.
But worryingly, Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said at the recent release of the Statistics SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey that the gap in reaching the 2030 NDP target of 24-million employed people was now 7.8-million.
Soberingly, the recent jobs numbers showed that the youth unemployment rate rose by 1.6 percentage points to 38.6% with 58% of unemployed people aged between 15 and 34.
Said Lehohla: ”It’s very important that the unemployment in these two age groups - 15-24 and 25-35 - has increased. Once unemployed for a period of time things get harder and harder for them to get jobs.”
In recent years, the government has engaged some of its key trading partners with the purpose of training young South Africans.
During an engagement with young people in Cape Town recently, Deputy Minister in the Presidency, Buti Manamela, suggested that Technical Vocational Education and Training colleges and Further Education and Training colleges were viable options school-leavers must consider to follow careers as artisans.
Sean Jones, chief executive of black empowered Artisan Training Institute, agrees. He points out that the failure rate at university is at around 50%.
He says the solution is for young people to consider a career as artisans as there is quicker access to full-time employment - with the chance of an apprenticeship with a company in the first year.
Critically, this means they also start earning money far sooner.
He argues that artisans are almost guaranteed formal employment and, on graduation, can earn R20 000 to R25 000 per month - more than most university graduates will earn.
The government calls on families to consider sending their children to vocational schools as they have a better chance at landing a job as there is a skills shortage in this sector.
The government’s relationship with its main trading partner China, and others, continues to create jobs in the local market.
In the past two years, Chinese direct investment to South Africa has expanded.
Some of these examples where artisans have been employed include the home appliance factory of Hisense Group, the cement production line invested by Hebei Jidong Development Group and the assembly plant of China First Automotive Works in Coega Industrial Park.
Hisense’s Atlantis factory, for example, employs 600 workers from the local community which it has trained.
In 2015, China trained more than 400 artisans, technicians and managers in South Africa.
In 2015, at a seminar in Joburg, organised by the Japan External Trade Organisation, the Japanese Embassy and Chamber of Commerce and Industry pledged to train local artisans.
As part of the African Business Education Initiative for young people, Japan plans to train 100 young South Africans by the end of 2016 for masters degrees at Japanese universities, in conjunction with internships at Japanese businesses.
These programmes have all been made a reality through the work done by the government which continues to seek partnerships to help grow our job skills and which would employ our young people.
Corporates at home have also recognised the threat of large-scale unemployment.
Ryan Ravens, chief executive of business leadership organisation Accelerate Cape Town, said recently: “Just about two-thirds of our population is less than 35 years of age and normally that would be an asset for any country. But 58% of that demographic is unemployed; that’s a significant part of our human capital.
“The Youth Employment Services initiative, called YES, is to give unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 30 the opportunity to experience the world of work. That will be an accreditation by companies, large and small, on a platform we are creating.”
Goldman Sachs’s managing director Colin Coleman said: “Hopefully companies will take in up to 330 000 people on aggregate per year for the next three years.”
What is needed is an overhaul in the education system so that employers do not look at graduates from poorer schools or less regarded tertiary institutions and excludes them from possible job considerations.
The marginalised and the vulnerable in our society need to be brought into the mainstream structures if we are to have any hope of growing socio-economically.
Jessie Duarte, is deputy secretary-general of the ANC