Patricia de Lille. Photo: PHANDO JIKELO/ANA

Each year in June the country grapples with issues facing our youth. Central on all our minds is the persistence of youth unemployment, or what University of the Western Cape Economics Associate Professor Derek Yu calls “chronic joblessness”.
Yu points out that 39 % of unemployed South Africans have never seen the inside of a workplace and, among young people, the number is much higher at 60.3%. It is an indictment on all of us.

Why is government not succeeding in creating the roads and ladders for our young people to climb out of poverty to employment? Secondly, why are businesses sometimes hesitant to employ more of our youth?

We all must work together across society to tackle unemployment. It’s one of the biggest dangers to the stability of our beloved democracy.

There are many factors that contribute to unemployment and focusing on one solution won’t grow a society that is inclusive and filled with opportunities, let alone solve the problem.

In the City of Cape Town, we have realised we cannot sit idle thinking somehow by providing excellent services in water, electricity and refuse removal that the rest will figure itself out. The City of Cape Town pro-actively tackles structural and spatial inequality (by) improving access to work, while it supports catalytic sectors that will encourage employment, investment, skills development and trade.

One of our strongest areas to bolster an opportunity city is our investment in transport and infrastructure. Linking communities previously divided by apartheid planning through initiatives like MyCiti and the Jobseeker programme is giving residents access to look for employment. The City is also releasing city-owned land for development and affordable housing closer to the city. People will be able to build networks to find employment.

While we tackle the structural inequalities, the City is also making it easier for investors to set up shop here. We invest in good infrastructure, roads and connectivity. The City has identified priority sectors with the potential to grow and develop the city’s economy. These include information communication and technology; business process outsourcing; craft and design; clothing, textiles and fashion; and renewable energy, among others.

The development of small- and medium-size businesses (SMEs) is also our focus. Between January and April, six of the special-purpose vehicles supported 335 different SMEs altogether, with some 160 SMEs supported through the Craft and Design Institute.

Another innovative programme is our YouthStartCT entrepreneurial challenge which actively incubates our next generation of entrepreneurs. YouthStartCT is an accelerator programme for start-up entrepreneurs and it aims to develop skills, encourage innovation and entrepreneurship. We have a great mix of bold young people this year and we look forward to announcing the top 3 and overall winner.

In April, I visited Atlantis to see one of the new 22 job centres the City established to train and connect job seekers with employers across the metro. I met participant Chuma Jaqu, 25, who found employment through the programme. Jaqu, from Gugulethu, struggled for two years to get a job. He matriculated in 2014 and volunteered at a hospital after completing a paramedics course. Thanks to the City’s programme, Jaqu started work for Cashbuild in Gugulethu in February.

Over the next three years, this jobseekers’ programme will run skills assessments for 30 000 unemployed residents, provide work-readiness skills training to 6 000 participants, and place 4 050 candidates in job opportunities. Our Mayoral Apprenticeship Programme trained 90 Capetonians in scarce skills such as diesel mechanics, fitters, boiler-makers, auto-electricians, plumbers, carpenters and bricklayers.

Recently, I visited Delft where the City is supporting the innovative Zoe Incubation Academy. Young Capetonians are being trained at the first community-based call centre in the city. The incubation academy is creating a steady pipeline of highly skilled individuals and taking opportunities to where young people live. The call centre sector is one of the fastest growing and biggest job creators in Cape Town creating 51 300 jobs in the Western Cape.

All of our efforts are just some examples of how we can build the ladders for our young people.

Across society, we need to work more closely The task is too great for one sector to tackle on its own.

Consider this: we are often told to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”. But unless society builds the ladders to move upwards, many of our youth and their children won’t have the straps to pull themselves up and out of unemployment and poverty.

* De Lille is the executive mayor of Cape Town

The Sunday Independent