Unemployment! Youth unemployment. This is the spark that will start it all; it will be the epicentre of South Africa’s next crisis. It will be the country’s version of Samson dislodges the pillars, thereby collapsing the temple upon all who are in it. Unless there is fundamental change to the structure of the economy, current policies and business attitude towards job creation, the unemployment crisis could sink the economy entirely.
The storm is building, the youth will reach the level of gatvol(ness); they will self-mobilise and their wrath will be like a destructive powerful landslide that will sweep everything away and bury us all.
To fully comprehend the severity of this crisis, I suggest you read the 2016 report by Stats SA entitled, The Social Profile of the Youth, 2009 – 2014.
The youth unemployment crisis almost certainly means that bad times lie ahead, we know how small clouds on the horizon can turn into thunderstorms. If we don’t halt this rising crisis or even reverse it, then the tragedy will condemn generations to come to poverty and inequality. Because that’s what unemployment does.
A society, whether provincial or national, that fails to listen or pay attention to pleas and cries of its youth, will inevitably suffer the consequences. An economy, specifically a labour market within an economy, which is allowed to operate without any real participation in youth (mostly black graduates) development, will find itself having to answer the difficult questions from that very same youth. By that point, they won’t be interested in whatever answer you have to give them.
A few words must be said about the dismal failure of business leaders and politicians in putting forward a common vision for the economy. As the individual market players, they’ve blindly pursued their own interest (call it natural human selfishness, or greed as you will) without thinking about the kind of economy they will leave behind for their children.
Posterity will not be hoodwinked, unless policies about inclusive growth have strategies tackling youth unemployment, it will ascribe to us a tag of a generation that borrowed from its children and still failed.
Even worse, it will look at this time in the South African history as a period when leaders (in business and politics), too drunk on the opium of self-enrichment, drove the economy off the cliff and deliberately plunged the next generation deeper into inequality, poverty, unemployment and possibly social unrest.
Sadly, much of what is happening today in this land of ours will be visited upon those coming after you and I.
So, what can be done, how can we reduce our high youth unemployment and create jobs?
External factors will always impact South Africa; we saw this during the global financial crisis of 2008/09. Be that as it may, I’m of the view that when the ripple effects finally arrive here, they must find an economy that’s able to withstand them. According to Treasury’s past discussion document on the subject, South Africa’s young workers are the worst affected by a stagnant or slow economy.
Below I suggest some short- to medium-term actions that policymakers and key players in the economy can take to wrestle down youth unemployment.
- Establish youth employment framework with clearly-outlined policies that will remove barriers to entering the labour market that promote apprenticeships, stages or other work experience, including a scheme aimed at increasing job opportunities for young people by favouring mobility across the country.
- Develop training programmes with close cooperation between the public and private sectors to ensure that training needs are demand-driven. Evidence collected by the World Bank’s Youth Employment Inventory indicates better effects from training in transitional and developing economies than in advanced economies.
- Improve educational outcomes by addressing each segment (pre-school, primary, secondary, vocational and tertiary) including enhancing relevance of education systems by better gearing learning outcomes towards labour market needs.
- Come up with plans for new skills and jobs to modernise labour markets and the development of skills throughout the lifecycle to increase labour participation and better match labour supply and demand.
- Prioritise knowledge expenditure, including by using tax incentives and other financial instruments to promote greater private R&D investments. In turn this spurs companies’ capacity to innovate and enables expansion of industries and job creation.
- Support labour policies (this is directed to the private sector), which enhance job creating and productive capacity; such as employment tax incentive project.
- Pay decent wages and benefits which enable employees to meet basic needs, improve their standard of living. By increasing families’ take-home pay, workers gain both financial security and an increased ability to purchase goods and services, thus creating jobs for other South Africans.
By themselves, these suggestions and labour market policies cannot solve youth unemployment. To create more jobs, it is critical for the economy to achieve more rapid, sustained and inclusive growth.
South Africa’s unemployment is critical on its own, add the youth who are soon to be the highest demographic in the country, that situation quickly becomes a crisis, add their frustrations at being ignored and excluded, you will now have an angry, agitated and impatient youth ready for a revolution.
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