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South Africa’s efforts to tackle joblessness can be more effective

Here’s how.
A staggering 74% of the country’s youth are jobless. Image: Naashon Zalk/Bloomberg News.

Youth unemployment is one of South Africa’s most intractable challenges, made worse by Covid-19. Prior to the pandemic the unemployment rate (including people who had given up looking for work) was just under 70% for people aged 15 to 24.

A year later the rate had increased to 74% – despite government investments. So it is crucial to understand what interventions are working. But how do we evaluate whether youth employment programmes are successful, particularly when unemployment is caused by the structure of the economy?

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The obvious answer, of course, is whether a programme results in a young person getting employed.

This is logical and easy to measure. It can easily be linked to the release of funding to programmes. And it allows for programmes to be compared. This was done in a systematic review of 113 programmes internationally.

However, as we have explored in several recent studies, there are a number of drawbacks to relying solely on job placement as an indicator of successful intervention. Doing so misses out on outcomes that are equally important, or more so, amid high structural unemployment.

These lessons are particularly important in economies that have been severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, where youth employment recovery will take time.

Inadequate measure of success

We make this argument based on several studies. The first looked at long-term employment outcomes of 1,892 youth between 18 and 25 who participated in youth employability programmes over the period 2017-2018. These are programmes run by NGOs, business and the state. They typically include technical and soft skills training.

The proportion of participants who found jobs and stayed in them over time was just 28% – somewhat better than a matched sample from the quarterly labour force survey data, but still low. But we also found evidence that programmes had other important outcomes. These included a continued positive orientation to the labour market, and improved self-esteem and self-efficacy – important attributes for managing the protracted transition to work in a low growth economy.

The second involved analysis of the quarterly labour force survey and general household survey data to understand the nature of young people not in employment or in education and training. It found that while many such youth have never worked, a significant portion find themselves in and out of work without making much longer-term progress.

The third study draws together several qualitative studies conducted in the past 10 years. It shows that young people are frustrated by the constant cycle of finding and taking up training and employment opportunities, without making progress towards a longer-term career.

Together, these studies show that job placement alone is an insufficient goal and measure of the success of youth employability programmes. Four reasons for this argument emerge from these studies.

First, job placement says more about demand than supply. A young person’s ability to find a job doesn’t depend only on their skills but also on whether the labour market is creating sufficient demand for employees. No matter how well a programme trains and supports a young person, if there are limited jobs, young people are unlikely to be employed.

Second, if a programme is getting young people into jobs even though job numbers are not growing – as in South Africa – these placements may be at the expense of other work seekers.

Individual programmes can get people into jobs while the overall youth unemployment rate stays stagnant or rises. In the context of a rapidly contracting economy in the Covid-19 era, this is a particularly important argument against job placement as the only measure of a programme’s success.

Third, using this single indicator takes attention away from longer-term pathways towards sustainable livelihoods. Many jobs in South Africa, especially at entry level, are insecure, part time or casual. There’s a risk of disregarding whether a job is decent and has prospects for learning and career development.

Young people typically do not stay in jobs. This is either because the job is not a good fit or is for a short term only. Other barriers, such as transport costs, also account for why they are unable to stay in jobs.

Qualitative and quantitative evidence shows that young people find jobs that are typically short lived, before having to look again for their next placement. Policymakers should consider whether these short term experiences add up to something longer term – or there’s a risk of perpetuating the cycle of underemployment.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, evaluating programmes on the basis of job placement alone underestimates the multidimensionality of poverty. Evidence repeatedly shows how many barriers and challenges young people face as they leave the education system and begin to find their way towards a job, and perhaps even a career.

These barriers are not only related to the labour market or education system. They also include issues such as food insecurity, income poverty, and care responsibilities, among others. Each of these limit the ability of young people to look for work.

These interrelated challenges influence young people’s ability to take up training or job opportunities.

Taken together, these challenges require far more intensive support than simply training and placing a young person in a job.

Alternative approaches

It is crucial that funders, policy makers, and programme developers invest in more intensive support that can help young people meet the challenges they face in seeking work. They must also insist on measures beyond job placement as indicators of success. International evidence bears this out. It shows that across 113 programmes reviewed, multidimensional programmes that seek to provide more comprehensive support to youth are more effective than those that offer training only. They are particularly successful when they target the most vulnerable youth.

Further, our research recognises the crucial contribution such programmes play in keeping young people connected to opportunities, and reducing social exclusion and social drift. This is when young people become increasingly disconnected from the labour market, training opportunities and positive social inclusion, which in turn can have negative consequences on mental health.

Given this evidence and the fact that South Africa is facing a stagnant economy for some time, it is crucial that funders, policy makers and those working on youth employment interventions evaluate and invest in programmes on the basis of their ability to keep young people positively oriented towards the labour market. The programmes should help improve their employability, even if the young participant is not yet able to find an actual job.

Outcome indicators that can more adequately measure these factors include enhancing job search resilience, promoting self-esteem and self-efficacy, and reducing discouragement.

There are ample reasons to move away from evaluating employability programmes on the basis of employment outcomes alone. Rather, a range of indicators should be used to track whether young people remain engaged, believe in themselves and keep trying to find a job. This, while developing the personal attributes that will make them attractive to future employers.

Each of these outcomes is more difficult to measure than a simple count of job placements. But it’s not impossible.The Conversation

Lauren Graham, Associate professor at the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg, University of Johannesburg; Ariane De Lannoy, Senior Researcher: Poverty and Inequality Initiative, Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town, and Leila Patel, Professor of Social Development Studies, University of Johannesburg

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.


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There is an old adage that they used to repeat in the Soviet Union: In capitalist countries the goods wait for the customers. In communist countries the reverse is true. There is a similar analogy with jobs and employees in South Africa. I am not sure how a bunch of ostensibly educated academics can pen such cobblers in good conscience. Maybe it’s ignorance from the current the education system. Maybe it’s simply unconscionable. Maybe it’s a form of desperation for academics to remain relevant in a post-truth world. I do not know.

Be that what it may, the pool of jobs is limited. The swathes of the desperate jobless is massive in comparison. Let us rank the jobless by skills (capability). Training programmes or assisting the unemployed “meeting challenges” seeking jobs will simply move the relative positions amongst the unemployed. It is a zero sum game. As in the Marxist regime, it is the unemployed not the employers that wait for the jobs.

The clue to solving the unemployment crisis lies in economics not social studies or some other unproven pseudo-scientific esoteric mumbo jumbo spewed forth by the Conversion. In particular the concept of creating value. My friend Jerry Schuitema, currently maintaining intense radio silence, has written some good stuff on adding value and anything I would add would be superfluous. Adding value in a free market system is the best way of serving your fellow man. When governments interfere with free markets, with minimum wages, BEE racist employment practice, helicopter money handouts, out-of-control labour legislation, tariffs, excessive taxation, a massively bloated civil service without accountability, rampant corruption and theft, subsidies, SOE black hole money pits, paying academics to write frivolous drivel … the list is endless.

Fiat money, is many things, but one the most dangerous is an enabler of an unbridled socialist regime. Depression of interest rates destroys industrial capital by raising the retirement value of existing bonds. Imagine we take a worker taking home R200k a year in wages. When his income-flow is capitalized at the current rate of interest of, say, 10 percent, we arrive at a figure of R2 million. This sum, or its equivalent in physical capital must exist somewhere, in some form, the yield of which will continue paying his wages. Capital has been accumulated and turned into plant and equipment and is in essence is the wage fund that backs his employment. If we depress interest rates, the amount of capital accumulation required to create a job increases.

Quite a few factors not addressed:
1. The quality of the SA education system is atrocious – the dropout rate from first year primary school to matric or even further is shocking.
2. You cannot have a pass rate of 40% for maths and expect to walk into a sustainable work environment.
3. Employers cannot “create” jobs if the economy is decided upon by communist or socialist principles.
4. Employers cannot encourage job creation if they are levied to the max.
5. Discourage the scourge of entitlement.
Remove the red tape and stimulate the economy, overhaul the education system and become a competitive labour market and we may have a chance.

The concept of job creation is a fallacy, a mirage punted by central planning socialist.

All policies aimed at creating jobs or “saving jobs” result in rising unemployment. The ANC uses labour laws and political interference at SOEs and the private sector to protect jobs for the last 27 years and unemployment has escalated over that time to be at a record high now. The ANC is the most socialist government on earth in a country that is not in a hyperinflationay death-spiral yet. That is why we have the highest unemployment figure on earth.

Only the private sector can create sustainable jobs. That means only the profit motive can create jobs. That means that only the competitiveness of the local private sector can create jobs. That implies that only satisfied consumers can create jobs, and those consumers create those jobs at the most competitive supplier in the most competitive country.

That brings us to the point – South African industries are hamstrung by the socialist DTI whose top structure consists of communists. The ANC policies of cadre deployement, BEE, reditributive taxes, local beneficiation, land redistribution and labour laws destroy our ability to compete on the global arena.

The ANC is responsible for the jobs bloodbath. Unemployment will escalate to the point of a revolution under their rule. These central planners are digging a mass grave for themselves and their supporters.

The youth/people are unemployed because the country has created more people than the economy can carry.

Stats SA figures show that the Indian and White populations stayed largely the same since 94, the Coloured group increased somewhat and the African population increased by 50%, from 30 m people in 94 to 45 million now. That is the major cause of youth unemployment and nothing is being done about it.

The UN declared family planning a human right in 1969, the academics here pointed to major social problems if the population growth rates continue and the Apartheid government acted, by introducing family planning in the early 70″s. Black leaders opposed it. If that initiative alone was successful, unemployment would have been much less.

A textbook example of muddling academics waffling about the mundane obvious of the unemployed in order to keep THEMSELVES employed!

Very much like the “land redistribution” cheerleaders at PLASS etc. Typical “I’m alright Jack” mentality. I reckon guaranteed these “academics” never created a job in their lives.

Wow so much about almost nothing, we do not need a team of scientists and analysers to determine the results of employment programs and government policy.

What we need is free market is for free market principles to be turned into policy.

History has taught us that the less government interferes the the more an industry will grow, this is down to the Natural Law of Spontaneous Order.

Government’s only role is to provide oversight and regulations so that the all the participants conduct their business in a manner which is competitive, free from abuse and beneficial to society.

Unemployment will literally disappear.

Further as many have see I am for a Universal Basic Income at the same price of a slave wage which represents the first step in Freedom and Rights.

It is not in the interest of the ANC to have voters that do not need the handouts, food parcels and T shirts.

Yep thats why the private sector is the govt number 1 enemy. Thats why they are trying to create unecessary laws to suffocate all private business and they have been very successful in that endeavour, especially in the last 12 months.

The number of businesses that closed their doors or moved overseas is astronomical.

The biggest impact measure for tackling joblessness in South Africa is to tackle ANC corruption in Govt and SOEs.

There is no multiplier effect with massive corruption and stolen monies.

No growth, no employment.

Perhaps there are too many people? Perhaps the breeding rate outstrips the job vacancy rate?

Very easy to solve this crisis:
1. Do away with BEE
2. Give the Employer the right to use the following words: “You are Fired!”
3. Do away with Unions
4. Lower tax for small businesses
5. Give more protection for Employers, currently the Employees have more rights than the Employers
6. Have special vehicle where new entrepreneurs apply for loans if they have a good business plan (rather than something like GRANTS)
7. Stop stealing money from the taxpayers and use it for what it was allocated for

There, problem solved, Can I have my PhD now please?

A friend of mine used to be a senior executive for an American company in the USA before he returned to SA to take up another position. I asked him once: What made America great? Why America? Why not Canada or Mexico?

He answered: “Three words: You are fired”!

I think it must be realised that the academics must write “pleasing things” lest they end up on the unemployment queue also.

End of comments.





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