By Tshepo Mokoena, Chairman of In2IT Technologies
Youth unemployment is rampant in South Africa, which means that our country’s up and coming workforce is not part of the job market. This is hugely problematic. While economic challenges undoubtedly play a role here, the reality is that corporate South Africa and government need to take on a more effective and active role in addressing the challenge.
While learnerships and skills development are important, these are often done merely as a tick box exercise, and they do not result in long-term employment opportunities. There needs to be a shift in focus from skills development to career development to ensure future employment and the economic sustainability of South Africa as a whole.
Going nowhere slowly
Stats SA puts current unemployment rates at 63.3% for persons between the ages of 15-24 and 41.3% for persons between the ages of 25-34. This is a massive chunk of the population who should be actively contributing to economic growth.
This population segment has also become increasingly disengaged: according to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey for Q4 2021, “young people have been discouraged with the labour market and they are also not building on their skills base through education and training – they are not in employment, education or training (NEET).”
A major contributor to this is the seeming futility of learnerships and skills development. Many youths find themselves in a cycle of learnerships that pay a stipend but do not provide adequate job training or development opportunities, and do not lead to future employment. This is because the learnerships themselves are the end goal for organisations looking to tick a compliance box. This approach is something that needs to change if South Africa’s youth unemployment rate is to be effectively addressed.
Instead of focusing solely on moving youth through learnership programmes that do not provide any paths for future sustainability, corporate South Africa needs to shift into a career development mindset. The aim should be to provide meaningful skills development and practical training with the ultimate goal of actually offering employment opportunities.
However, the burden does not lie with corporates alone. It is essential for Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) and the Department of Labour to play an active role in structuring programmes effectively. Training should not just be about ticking a box or sending youth off with a certificate, but about developing young people so that they can become active participants in the South African job and economic market.
Technology leading the way
This mindset shift is particularly important given the growing role that technology plays in our everyday lives and in the job market. Jobs in IT or related fields require not only a relevant qualification, but specific certifications that in turn need licenses and practical experience to obtain. IT corporates need to focus their learnerships and career development opportunities on delivering the combination of theory and practical experience to enable the youth to grow this sector in South Africa going forward.
To solve the current crisis, we need a robust intervention between government and corporate South Africa, as well as a clear plan of action for transformation. From the worsening youth unemployment statistics quarter over quarter, it is clear that our current programmes are failing us.
We need to fast-track technology skills development, but more than that we need to move toward giving the youth real skills and actual experience, as well as helping them to develop careers. The objective of skills development should not be to tick a box, but to transform the entire process with the aim of actually addressing the high youth unemployment rate.