The Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) released the findings of the Youth Unemployment Study on 9 November 2016 which assessed the impact that youth employability programmes had on young people.
The study involved 2000 youth nationally, who were participating in youth employability programmes and offers insight into the struggles that young people face in accessing the labour market. Partners include the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, eight youth employability organisations, and Standard Bank; with funding support from The Jobs Fund, the Ford Foundation, and the National Youth Development Agency.
The findings point to an optimistic and future-oriented cohort of young people who come from very vulnerable households. 71% of participants reported food security as a daily challenge. Three quarters of the young people who participated in the study – a higher proportion than the national average – had been unemployed for more than a year.
The young people in the study had relatively high education levels with 91% having achieved a matric certificate and 35% having completed a post-secondary qualification. More than half the partipants had some previous work experience with a typical job lasting under a year, and ending as contracts ended.
According to Prof Lauren Graham, Associate Professor and Deputy Director of the CSDA, “A key human development assumption is that investment in education can break the cycle of poverty. However, youth in this study have higher levels of education and many have completed some form of post-secondary education or have a training qualification. Yet they still face unemployment and poverty. This points to not only wider economic challenges that underlie structural unemployment and systemic failures in education, but also to other barriers that keep talented young people locked out of work opportunities.”
The high cost of work seeking was identified as one of the main barriers to accessing employment with youth paying about R550 per month on transport, internet costs, printing and copying, postage and application fees. This represents an amount equal to, or more than, the average monthly per person household income of R527. Other barriers included a lack of information about how to search and apply for jobs with 57% of participants searching the internet and making ‘blind applications’. Despite young people reportedly making 2-3 applications per month in the three months preceeding the study, 80% of them remained unemployed. Additionally, a lack of social capital acts as a fundamental barrier to work-seeking. Of the young people who participated in the study, 82% indicated having no, or very few acquaintances, and 84% indicated having no, or very few friends they could turn to for advice and support on work-seeking. Yet, social capital is a key resource for finding work in South Africa.
“What our research is telling us is that young people need mechanisms which not only harness their potential but also link them and keep them connected to the labour market. Youth employability programmes that connect young people to work experience and job opportunities are critical. So too are public employment programmes, a national youth service programme and other such opportunities, which can provide an intermediate connection that can benefit both society and the individual. However, these interventions must be well formulated and effectively implemented,” said Graham.
Prof Leila Patel added that youth unemployment is primarily driven by low labour absorption indicating the need for economic policies that will stimulate job creation and demand for young work seekers. Interventions may include working with small businesses to stimulate demand and considering the effect of the proposed National Minimum Wage on young work-seekers.
Ultimately there is no silver bullet that will fundamentally shift the youth unemployment challenge. The problem is complex and it requires multiple strategies and commitments from a range of role-players across society.
The Youth Employability Report was compiled by Prof Leila Patel, South African National Research Chair in Social Welfare and Development and the Director of the CSDA; Prof Lauren Graham, Associate Professor and Deputy Director at the CSDA; Prof Gina Chowa, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill Associate Professor and Director of Global Social Innovations; Dr Rain de Vera Masa – Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill; and Zoheb Khan, Leilanie Williams and Senzelwe Mthembu – all researchers at the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg.