At the Trialogue Business in Society Virtual Conference 2020, panellists Sabelo Buthelezi (Department of Higher Education & Training), Anthony Gewer (National Business Initiative), Tashmia Ismail-Saville (YES4Youth) and Kuben Nair (Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator) discussed how best to source and create solutions to South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis – from economic growth and reform to the issues regarding the alignment between demand and supply in terms of jobs and skills, and how the focus should be squarely on young people and the small business sector. There was a strong consensus amongst panellists on the key issues at play with regard to youth unemployment, as well as on the levers available to address the crisis.
Growth and reform
Gewer kicked off the discussion by referencing lessons learnt to date, specifically that there has previously been an over-reliance on qualifications to unlock jobs for youth, while it is now clear that this does not hold true in terms of the labour market. Secondly, there is a lack of labour absorbing capacity by corporate South Africa – corporates are incentivised (through the B-BBEE scorecard) to train and upskill young people but are not able to translate these apprenticeships and learnerships into employment opportunities.
Gewer went on to expand on the NBI’s approach to this challenge by highlighting that, without a resolution to the disconnect between the demand for and supply of skills, it becomes very difficult to transition young people into employment.
According to Gewer, the next step is to align supply to meet this stimulated demand by working with public institutions, particularly the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, to be able to respond to the demand in a much more dynamic way through expanded learning pathways and ensure that there is an ability to provide shorter, more demand-led programmes linked to jobs.
Agreeing on the problem of the mismatch in demand and supply, Buthelezi elaborated on the Centres of Specialisation (CoS) launched in 2019 by the Minister of Higher Education. The CoS mandate is for TVET colleges to work with local industry associations to deliver against the industry’s skills needs. At the core of this pilot approach is a social dialogue between all role players.
Ismail-Saville agreed with focusing on SMMEs, referencing research showing that the small business sector is the biggest driver of job creation and gross domestic product (GDP) growth. “The answers are not that hard – we need to make it easier for small businesses to grow, to be more innovative and to be more capital intensive – then they will take that young person on,” she said. Ismail-Saville emphasised the important role that corporates have to play in supporting this systemic approach and to set in motion cascading benefits. Examples included corporate partners of the YES4Youth programme using the model to train and deploy youth in rural areas in KwaZulu-Natal to remove alien vegetation from river systems and then create incubated micro-enterprises from which the alien vegetation is processed into cattle feed and sold back to the corporate partner.
According to Nair, what Covid-19 has demonstrated is that in a crisis young people are the first out the door at companies and, as recovery begins, they are at the back of the queue to get back into employment. Nair highlighted the many systemic barriers blocking young peoples’ journey to employment and acknowledged that although many of Haramabee’s corporate partners are attuned to these barriers, the reality is that for many companies there is less perceived risk in hiring via a recommendation or hiring someone with some work experience. The effort that Harambee and the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention are putting in is focused on working with employers towards how to put the focus squarely back on young people so that, as South Africa plans for the economic recovery, young people can be at the front of the employment queue.
Commenting on the value of work experience, Ismail-Saville described the YES4Youth one-year paid work opportunity as a “good trampoline” into employment. She expanded on this, saying that the exposure to work increases a young person’s likelihood of getting their next employment opportunity as employers view previous employment as a marker of productivity. Additionally, it breaks the ‘scarring effect’ – the longer that you are out of employment, the longer it takes to get back into employment. It also breaks the psychological barrier whereby a young person realises that they are worthy, capable and can get a job.
There was consensus on the panel around the key fixes required to address the issues at play, namely:
- Put young people at the centre of the post-Covid19 economic recovery plan.
- Enable scalable solutions by investing in stronger public-private partnerships to ensure that good plans are executed well, and resources are used efficiently.
- Focus on removing the barriers to growth for the informal sector.
- Link the economic recovery plans and strategic integrated projects with industry and local community needs to enable the necessary institutions to adjust to meet these skills needs.
Image: Gugulethu Mfuphi, Sabelo Buthelezi, Anthony Gewer, Tashmia Ismail-Saville and Kuben Nair
Article was written by Kelly Brownell
Photo taken by Janelle Strydom