Youth empowerment key to better future

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma says investing in the country’s youth and paying particular attention to their skills development is one way of helping the country stay on course to achieving economic growth in the future.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Conference on Education and Training of Youth Workers, currently underway at the University of South Africa (Unisa) in Pretoria, Zuma reminded delegates that the world could only prosper if there were dedicated efforts to invest in the youth.  This became more important in the current economic times where the youth faced hardships including high unemployment, crime and health challenges such as HIV and Aids.

“We can only prosper if there are dedicated efforts to invest in the youth,” said President Zuma.

He said the 5th Brics Summit, to be held in Durban on March 26 and 27, will not only help promote youth development in South Africa but the continent as a whole.

He said the Brics [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] partner countries appreciated the youth employment and empowerment drive, and it remained central in the grouping.

“We are certain that Brics will contribute immensely to satisfying the employment and development needs of our young population,” said Zuma.

Acknowledging the backdrop of low global growth that began with the 2008 financial crisis, which brought on a global dilemma of rising joblessness, higher poverty and worsening income inequality, especially among the youth, Zuma called for collective efforts to address investment in youth.

Quoting research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the African Development Bank -- which shows that more than 40 percent of those who are economically active and under the age of 30 are unemployed -- Zuma said this was worrying, but he also believed there was hope for the situation.

The OECD report shows that countries which have higher numbers of youth in their population have better growth prospects than those with aging populations. 

“This makes us very optimistic regarding growth prospects, since South Africa's Census 2011 report, released last year, revealed that our country is essentially a nation of young people.

“Just over a third of the population is under the age of 15. This makes us a nation with a future, and we must utilise all available resources to build that future. That future is our young people,” said Zuma.

He added that the country’s focus on improving the quality of education was well-placed, as this would ensure sustainable development.  

The three-day conference brings together participants from across the Commonwealth member states for three days to deliberate on 40 years of progress in education and training towards professionalising youth work.

Zuma hoped the conference would go a long way towards raising awareness of youth work so that practitioners could be recognised accordingly.

Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Mandla Makhanya, said stakeholders involved in the conference sought to contribute to the professionalization of the youth development practice through partnerships.

“The overall objective of the conference is to share experiences and develop strategies on youth work professionalization,” said Makhanya.

Speaker after speaker highlighted the need to advocate and continue to support the process of youth work professionalization. They noted the concern that youth development programmes in South African universities have been phased out.

Highlighting the need for international recognition of youth work as a profession, Professor Howard Sercombe, of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, said the recognition of youth work was growing in different sections of the working world.

He said if the world was to change the lives of young people, the social context within which this would happen had to change.

Sercombe had words of encouragement for the youth to take charge and be the change they wanted to see in the world.  “You cannot become anything, but you can become something.”

He said the youth must not expect government to do everything for them but they had to take decisive action.

"We refuse to see young people as some kind of societal disease that you can, as Shakespeare says, wish them away,” added Sercombe. -