UJ study diagnoses the country’s youth unemployment

​Young people who participate in youth employment programmes are more likely to obtain jobs.

This is according to researchers from the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) who have been conducting research seeking to understand what works in addressing youth unemployment in the country.

“The study, released on Wednesday, 12 June 2019, shows there are multiple barriers keeping many of the country’s young people locked out of labour market opportunities. These include a mismatch between their education and the skills needed in the economy,” said Professor Leila Patel, who holds the South African Research Chair in Welfare and who is the Social Development Director at CSDA.

She pointed out that the latest unemployment statistics illustrate a continued rise in the levels of youth unemployment with the expanded unemployment rate creeping up to 52% for youth aged 15 to 34 years. The particularly low level of skills among young people constrains their ability to enter the labour market.

An exciting outcome of the study is that youth employability programmes positively contribute to young people’s labour market outcomes. Another key finding of this study shows that the most important programme feature for predicting employment is offering matching services and that financial capability training does seem to have positive effects on employment.

“The effects of youth employability programmes (locally accessible programmes providing technical and workplace skills training to young people) are critical skills for a job seeker to have. Second, it presents evidence of the impact of a financial capability intervention focused on promoting savings behaviour amongst young people,” she said.

According to Lauren Graham, an Associate Professor at UJ’s CSDA, although some remained unemployed they demonstrated resilience through self-esteem and efficacy, in how often they search for work and repetitive job applications.

Prof Graham stressed that in South Africa’s labour market, it was unrealistic to expect full employment considering that the gross domestic product shrank by 3.2% in the first quarter of the year.

The situation of rising unemployment does not stem from a lack of effort on the part of the state, civil society, and the private sector, Prof Graham elaborated.

The state in particular has invested significantly in programmes, interventions to drive employment generally, and youth employment specifically. Examples include the Expanded Public Works and Community Works Programmes, investments in Special Economic Zones, and the Employment Tax Incentive, all of which are major Active Labour Market Programmes (ALMPs) intended to drive growth in employment and promote labour-absorption. While the private sector has not seen significant expansion in jobs overall, many have been participating in the Youth Employment Service programme and investing in skills training programmes to support youth in their efforts to transition to work. Civil society organisations are the largest contributors to the delivery of training programmes offered outside of the formal post-secondary education and training system.

Prof Graham concluded: “There are thus significant efforts, across sectors of society, being made into supporting youth to transition to work. Much is learned from such interventions, but there remain gaps in the evidence base both in South Africa and internationally. A recent systematic review of ALMPs internationally notes the paucity of good quality evidence, particularly in the Sub Saharan Africa (SSA) region, that can inform the development of impactful ALMPs. This study was conducted to address such a gap. It is particularly relevant in the South African context where youth unemployment figures continue to creep upwards and where just over a third of young people are in neither education, employment nor training. It is also timely in the international context given the increased interest in evidence about the effects of ALMPs in various contexts.”

  • The study involved 1996 young people, aged 18 to 35 years, who participated in youth employability programmes (YEPs). The participants were interviewed four times over the course of three years
  • This research study launch follows the release of the first round of findings in 2016. Previously, the study revealed that participants in youth employability programmes were from socioeconomically deprived households. For these young people higher levels of education were not translating into improved access to employment because other barriers remained in place, including the high costs of work seeking. These barriers essentially lock talented poor young people out of the labour market.
Lauren Graham: Associate Professor At Uj’s Csda
Lauren Graham: Associate Professor at UJ’s CSDA


“Young people who participate in youth employment programmes are more likely to obtain jobs”

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