GETTING SERIOUS: A long queue of young job applicants outside the Johannesburg Road Agency’s offices in Johannesburg. The enormity of addressing challenges of youth unemployment is going to be with us for a while and thus requires wisdom and longterm consideration in how we implement possible solutions. Perhaps the Yes initiative will be one of those glimpses of hope for our youth, says the writer. PICTURE: MATTHEWS BALOYI

‘As we set about building a new South Africa, one of our highest priorities must be our children. The vision of a new society that guides us should already be manifest in the steps we take to address the wrong done to our youth and to prepare for their future. Our actions and policies, and the institutions we create, should be eloquent with care, respect and love,” said Nelson Mandela. 

Last year, Statistics South Africa released a report showing that black Africans aged between 25 and 34 were less skilled than their parents. The statistic, which should worry all of us who believe in the words of our icon Mandela, prompted then-Statistician-General Pali Lehohla to make the poignant remark: “When parents are better equipped than the children, it’s a sign of regression.” 

Lehohla was speaking during the release of the Social Profile of Youth 2009-2014 report which found that the number of black South African youth aged between 25 and 34 who are employed in professional, managerial and technical jobs was down by 2% since 2009, leaving that generation less skilled than previous ones and less skilled than every other race and age group. 

The statistics painted a disappointing trend, pointing out that those who did not have a matric were most likely to remain unemployed – consistently at 57% in the five-year period under review, while those with matric recorded unchanged unemployment levels of 38%. 

This dropped to 1% among graduates in the period from 2009 to 2014, while those with tertiary education other than university degrees dropped to 4% in 2014, slightly down from 5% in 2009. 

The statistics also showed that entrepreneurism has dropped among youths – on average by 2.6% and more notably among women. 

The 2018 statistics released by new Statistician-General Risenga Maluleke were not any better. The youth remained the most vulnerable within our labour market with the unemployment rate among those aged between 15 and 34 touching 38.2%, implying that more than one in every three young people in the labour force did not have a job in the first quarter of this year. 

This report further revealed that the young people have become discouraged with the labour market and were not building on their skills base through education and training. The rate declines among the black African and coloured males, while the rate increased among Indian/Asian and white males, confirming that young people face extreme difficulties engaging with the labour market. 

This report is not only a sad note on which we close the month of June when we traditionally celebrate the role that young people play in our country, but also a wake-up call to all policy makers and activists to introspect and ask whether we are doing enough to safeguard the future of our young people. As Stats SA correctly pointed out, the challenges of youth unemployment are not unique to our country but a global phenomenon which requires all hands on deck to resolve. In our country, the challenge will require all of us to discover a new sense of patriotism that has been lacking for many years. In the late 1990s, the ANC government introduced a campaign dubbed “Masakhane” to create a new patriotism after years of apartheid and colonial rule. 

One of the bold decisions that the inaugural leadership of the South African Youth Council took at the time was to support the government initiative. The council had to convince its membership – which comprises civil society youth organs, various political youth formations, religious and business youth structures – to rally behind a government initiative which might have been regarded as partisan. It was important for the council to lift the objective of the campaign and to make it all about the future of the country and the need for everyone, the youth in particular, to play an active role in engendering a new consciousness of unity and solidarity to the citizenry if we cared about the future of the country. 

The statistics painted such a gloomy picture for the future of our youth that we desperately need all social partners and civil society as a whole to rally together so that together a greater effort can be initiated to improve the lives of young people. Perhaps the recent launch of the Youth Employment Service (Yes) provides the clearest signal of hope that finally the country has been gifted a mechanism to rally around to address the dismal situation. This initiative, which is a partnership between the government, business, labour and civil society, aims to see young people between the ages of 18 and 35 being offered paid work experience over the coming few years. 

The idea is that young people will be recruited via the initiative and be provided through corporate work experience, where businesses that participate in the programme create one-year paid positions for the youth or through small business development, where young people are empowered through training and funding to start and grow their own businesses. So far only a mere 100 companies have joined. 

The Yes initiative is unfortunately being launched during what is an election period and, sadly, many initiatives that coincide with election periods tend to fizzle out or are regarded as partisan initiatives and thus rarely receive the support needed. It is a pity that most of the initiatives turn into something that always gives hope to young people but ends up being a disappointment or having limited impact on the challenges facing them.

 The launch of the Yes initiative provides organisations such as the South African Youth Council with the best opportunity to take ownership of it and promote it as an initiative that can help address this major headache of youth unemployment. It is possible that all youth formations from various persuasions can adopt the Yes campaign and mobilise the private sector to employ young people as a matter of common practice. If every company is made to develop a consciousness that they are duty bound to make space for youth employment, the collective effort can go a long way towards addressing the calamity. President Cyril Ramaphosa often encourages all citizens to lend a helping hand to aid in rebuilding our country. One way of doing this is to actively promote the Yes initiative as one that is not merely an election slogan but one that should be supported by all in our society who care about the plight of young people. 

The enormity of addressing challenges of youth unemployment is going to be with us for a while and thus requires wisdom and long-term consideration in how we implement possible solutions. Perhaps the Yes initiative will be one of those glimpses of hope for our youth in the coming few years. With the participation of all organisations of goodwill, perhaps more private sector players will flock to be part of this initiative so that it can experience the impact required.

Chabo Freddy Pilusa is an author and former president of the South African Youth Council