While the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) has provided job opportunities for close to two decades, work is underway to ensure that its footprint reaches more people.
By March 2023, the programme had steadily created over 14 million work opportunities since its inception in April 2004.
“The EPWP has been a good programme from its inception 19 years ago. The main focus of the programme is to alleviate poverty by providing job opportunities. This is important because it is not just a job opportunity, it is an opportunity that must provide a skill to participants,” said Public Works and Infrastructure Deputy Minister Bernice Swarts.
The EPWP is a medium-to long-term government-funded programme that promotes the use of labour-intensive methods to create work opportunities for poor and unemployed South Africans.
In addition to gaining skills and earning an income, the work opportunities also allow participants to gain valuable work experience that make them employable.
Through its various five-year phases, which have been improved upon over the years, the programme has granted work opportunities to many across the length and breadth of the country.
In an interview with SAnews at her office in central Pretoria, Swarts said various research reports and mid-term review reports of the different phases of the EPWP show that the income participants earn from the programme is having a positive impact in terms of poverty alleviation.
The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI) is the custodian of the programme, which is being implemented by over 300 public bodies across the three spheres of government.
Training for the future
The programme has morphed with each subsequent phase it has undergone and the current five-year Phase IV comes to an end in 2024.
The current phase has created 3.9 million work opportunities against the five million target.
Swarts revealed that in the current phase, the EPWP has been strengthening its partnerships with the private sector in getting placements for youth that have been trained in artisan programmes to gain work experience.
This includes the placement and absorption of young people by contractors on projects implemented by the DPWI. Some young people trained in the mechanical engineering field have been absorbed by mining and car repair companies as part of the partnership.
Participants in the programme obtain various skills such as painting, brick laying and carpentry, home community-based care skills and fire-fighting among others. Training is funded through the National Skills Fund and budgets of projects in different public bodies.
The EPWP also contributes to household incomes, with over R12 billion having been transferred to participants as wages in 2022/23.
“The final figure, according to our records, was R13.2 billion being paid in wages,” she added.
While creating a livelihoods for participants, the EPWP also contributes towards service delivery. Projects include road maintenance, construction of schools and clinics, environmental greening, cleaning and removing alien vegetation.
In order to increase the participation of vulnerable groups in society, the current phase of the programme has put demographic targets in place.
For women participation this is set at 60% while the targets for the youth has been pegged at 55%.
According to the Deputy Minister the targets relating to women are being met while that of young people are yet to be met.
“For the 2022/23 financial year, the achievement for women was at 69% while that of youth was at 40%. Interventions are being put in place through better targeting during recruitment and having youth-focused programmes to improve the achievement of targets for youth,” explained the Deputy Minister.
She attributed this to the fact that some young people view wearing orange overalls as “not cool” while others believe that they cannot take part in the EPWP because of the qualifications they hold.
“[This] is a wrong mind-set because if you have a degree in administration and have been at home for five years, surely you must be able [to come to a point where you] say ‘let me deviate and participate in a programme that is going to give me a skill’,” she said.
The programme also caters for people living with disability by making provision for them to form their own companies. The Deputy Minister noted that more needs to be done to accommodate people living with disabilities.
“We need to bring in people with disabilities and we can bring them in as project managers on site to oversee the work that is being done.”
In 2022, the DPWI developed the EPWP Policy, which has been approved by Cabinet for public consultation and is expected to be finalised by March 2024.
On what the future holds for the programme that continues to evolve, Swarts says the DPWI and its stakeholders are developing proposals for the next phase of the programme, which is scheduled to start in April 2024, if approved by Cabinet.
Expanding the reach of the programme, improving training and skills development, and improving on exit strategies for participants are some the different proposals being considered for the next phase.
“[The] EPWP must and will be the backbone of creating employment in the country. After 19 years [and] as we prepare for the 20 years celebrations, which we are doing as DPWI at the end of this November, we are going to start showcasing and celebrating the EPWP.
“It must just not be about celebrating, it must be about us bringing all participants and stakeholders on board.”
The Deputy Minister is confident that those who complete the programme are capable of becoming entrepreneurs who can contribute to the country’s economic development. –SAnews.gov.za