Overcoming youth unemployment together

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What has distinguished us as a nation, has been that South Africans do not back away from a challenge. Our history tells us that no challenge is too big, no matter how complex and difficult, when we stand united.

Not even the evil apartheid system could prevent the march of South Africans to democracy, freedom and reconciliation. We succeeded in building a united country in spite of predictions that we would descend into anarchy.

Since 1994 we have worked to advance our society and though there have been challenges, we have dealt with these together, secure in the knowledge that South Africans always face their problems head-on. In April 2014, we will be celebrating twenty years of this democratically elected government. Numerous stories can be shared with the world on how we have proved the prophets of doom wrong on everything we have committed to do!

This month three years ago South Africa successfully hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup even though our detractors had predicted chaos and failure. We demonstrated to the world that we are more than capable to host major events and earned the reputation of a country that can deliver.

Importantly, our delivery of this historic event, the first on the African continent, has helped to bring an end to Afro-pessimism that had dominated international media for many years.

We faced similar hurdles in our fight against HIV and Aids. Today our nationwide rollout and availability of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs has given hope to millions of South Africans to continue living healthy and productive lives.

Our courageous efforts, united in our strides, were acknowledged in the 2012 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report when it commended our commitment and noted a dramatic 41 per cent drop in new HIV infections since 2001.

As a nation we must use these achievements as an inspiration to take on our current challenges especially on the stubbornly high rate of unemployment, particularly amongst our youth.

Addressing the Japan International Cooperation Agency, President Zuma described the extent of youth unemployment and said “For the next 20 years, South Africa will have over 14 million young people between the ages of 15 and 29.

This number will peak in 2021, reaching 15.1 million. This presents us with a tremendous opportunity - but it also constitutes a serious challenge, given that joblessness in South Africa tends to mirror our historical past where 65 per cent of our unemployed are black youth.”

In highlighting the country’s response to youth unemployment, President Zuma further said “We recently negotiated a Youth Accord between Government, business, labour, civil society and youth organisations. This will go a long way in addressing our challenges.”

This Youth Month allows us to recommit ourselves to turn around youth joblessness and pledge our support to the Social Accord on Youth Employment.

This Accord commits all stakeholders to a coordinated youth employment strategy that will bring a large number of young people into the job market.

Under its auspices, Government has committed to increase the number of young people employed in the public sector through its various ‘youth brigade’ programmes.

For example, youth in rural areas are already being skilled through our flagship rural programme - the National Rural Youth Service Corps (NARYSEC).

Noting the programme’s impact, the Minister ofRural Developmentand Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti said “There are currently some 13 000 participants in the NARYSEC programme at various stages of their training as development agents.”

Government has also partnered with the Agricultural Research Council to train 900 youth in raising livestock for smallholdings and dairy production.

In addition, youth have been active in building houses in Worcester, a youth hub in Beaufort-West, as well as brick making and paving projects in Limpopo.

Government is investing R631 million in rural youth training programmes. A further R3.5 million is being invested to train 990 women and youth in rural arts and craft initiatives.

Youth employment cannot be left to Government alone. The private sector should assist to train and develop young people. Further Education and Training (FET) colleges are a resource of youth skilled in a number of areas.

Moreover, young people must explore opportunities to start their own enterprises. Through the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) close to R3 billion is available for youth entrepreneurship over the next five years.

We are investing in the youth of our country because they are central to our development. The National Development Plan (NDP) – the country’s strategic vision for the next 20 years – highlights the role youth will play in the country’s advancement. It emphasises that our youthful population presents an opportunity to boost economic growth, increase employment and reduce poverty.

In spite of a sluggish global economy, South Africa has recorded some important strides in creating employment. During his 2013 Budget Vote the Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel said that 646 000 new jobs were created in the country.

The Minister added “Today 1,6 million more young people under 35 are working than in 1995, and school and university enrolment is dramatically higher, as even critics of government concede.”

A recent study by the University of Stellenbosch on graduate employment trends reaffirmed this by highlighting that in less than a generation the number of graduates employed has more than doubled.

It showed that in 1995 there were about 460 000 graduates in the labour force, 4 per cent of whom were unemployed. By 2011, there were more than 1 million graduates in the labour force, with only 5 per cent unemployed.

Government intends to further support employment creation by increasing university enrolments to 1.5 million and college enrolments to 4 million by 2030.

Together we can take on the challenge of youth unemployment and turn it into a success. We have done it before on other challenges facing the country even when the odds seemed insurmountable. All it takes is a concerted national effort that involves all of us.

Phumla Williams is acting CEO of the Government Communication and Information System


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