The mismatch between what employers require and what young people have to offer is contributing to the problem of youth unemployment.

Unemployment is one of the key challenges facing South Africa, and particularly South African youth.  A recently released report from Stats SA, entitled The Social Profile of Youth, 2009 – 2014 presents a bleak picture of employment amongst the youth, with young people between 15 and 34 making up the bulk of the unemployed.

Speaking at the Trialogue CSI Conference 2016, on a panel around skills development and employability, Makano Morojele of the National Business Initiative said: “Youth unemployment is deepening. The plight of rural youth is terrible, they bear the brunt of youth unemployment. Entrepreneurship is held up as a possible solution, but there’s been a sharp decline amongst female entrepreneurs. How we respond to this dire situation is absolutely crucial.”

Skills development and employability panel (fltr): Sazini Mojapelo, Birgit Vijverberg, Maryana Iskander and Makano Morojele

Skills development and employability panel (fltr): Sazini Mojapelo,           Birgit Vijverberg, Maryana Iskander and Makano Morojele

The poor standard of education contributes significantly to poor employability. Sazini Mojapelo, of Barclays Africa Group, said that young people coming out of school and even university are very difficult to absorb into the workplace without training. “Basic education doesn’t provide the work skills that we as a corporate need.  This goes beyond the CV, it’s about life skills – how you behave, how you conduct yourself on social media.”

Panellists agreed that interventions that prepare young people for the world of work need to start earlier in high school, building critical life skills and helping learners to make well-informed career choices.

Birgit Vijverberg of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) advocates for a holistic approach to youth unemployment. NYDA partners with other organisations in a variety of interventions, including a “second chance” matric rewrite programme, and the Solomon Mahlangu Scholarship Fund to send young people from rural areas to tertiary institutions.

Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator has had notable success in this area, having placed 25 000 young people in entry-level jobs in 250 private sector companies.  Youth are screened and trained, and then placed in jobs. CEO Maryana Iskander outlined some of the basic challenges that school-leavers face. “English language fluency is important, especially when servicing international customers.  Young people who are out of work for some time lose their proficiency with English. Numeracy is often used as a proxy for intelligence, as a ‘gate’ to employment, even if that skill is not related to the job at hand. Many South African matriculants who have good problem-solving skills will fail a numeracy test, because they haven’t been well taught.”

She stressed how important it is for a young person to get a foothold in the economy: “Even if it’s not the dream job, it is a starting place. They need role models – the store manager who says, this where I started, like you… “

Retention is key. Research by the Development Bank of South Africa shows that a young South African who can get and keep a first job for at least 12 months has an 85% chance of being employed for the rest of their lives.