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UJ to embark on youth assets and employability research

The Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) is embarking on an applied research project, which seeks to understand how best to build the assets of young people to improve their chances of being employed.
With just under 3.8 million South Africans between the ages of 18-25 years currently not in education, employment or training, youth employability remains high on the national development agenda.
Prof Leila Patel, Director of the CSDA and Professor of Social Development studies, says that “the overarching aim guiding the project is to assess the impact of youth employability and financial inclusion interventions to more effectively support young people in the transition to work.”
In his state of the nation address, President Jacob Zuma agreed that “youth unemployment in South Africa continues to be of concern”. He pointed to the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme and the Community Work Programme, from which South Africans, according to the President, “obtain an income and skills… and which they use to seek formal employment”.
One of the biggest challenges in ensuring that the state develops a working strategy to get South African youth into the workplace is the lack of workplace, technical and life skills relevant for the world of work.
In addition, many young people do not have the financial means to cover the costs associated with job search and further education. This is often a result of poverty, but also of a very limited savings culture amongst young people – which can itself be said to be a consequence of young people in South Africa not being provided with financial education.
In response to these challenges, the CSDA will lead a project which will be implemented at 56 sites nationally with just under 3 000 participants in both urban and rural areas. The research will identify which skills, as provided by the CSDA’s partner organisations, are most employability-enhancing. A randomised control trial will be conducted to evaluate the impact of this skills-provision – including vocational and work-related skills development, job placement and experiential learning programmes – and half of the participants will be provided with assets such as savings accounts and financial education to see if these have additional employability-enhancing effects.
The project will implement and rigorously test this central concept of ‘asset-building’ to address youth unemployment, in order to provide evidence for wider and sustainable social investments in the economic capabilities of young people.
The CSDA is collaborating with the University of North Carolina (UNC) and partners in the government, private and civil society sectors involved in youth development work in the research project, which has drawn the interest and financial support of The Ford Foundation based in New York.
“Research in other developing countries showed that youth asset strategies have had positive economic, education, health and social well-being impacts among young people. We will test these interventions that will be adapted in the South African context. If found to be successful, it could easily be scaled up by government, NGO and private sector partners thereby ensuring wider reach and the mainstreaming of youth employability interventions into existing youth development and training programmes. The result of this action could also contribute to social policies and programmes to promote youth assets and employability in South Africa,” says Patel.
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