The dangers of youth unemployment

At a recent HSRC seminar on unemployment and skills development, Bongiwe Beja, a youth stream manager at Youth Employment Service (YES), said jobless growth – economic growth without increased job opportunities – is an emerging market phenomenon. Unemployment is linked to crime and depression and is one of the main causes of the youth’s disgruntlement and protests. Another key cause is spatial inequality.

"If you live in a township or in the rural areas and your job is in the urban area, our statistics show that around 40% to 60% of your salary (often a minimum wage of R3500 per month) is spent on transportation to and from work," Beja said. Almost half of South Africans live below the poverty line (R561 per month in July 2019). In peri-urban or township areas, 6 out of 10 people are unemployed, much higher than the 29% nationally, she said.

Referring to the 2011 Tunisian revolution that saw the ousting of the country’s president, Beja warned against ignoring the youth unemployment crisis in South Africa. “Almost 40% of our population is made up of people aged between 15 to 34. Our unemployment rate is double that of what Tunisia was. So, if we keep ignoring this issue, we’re likely to see more [protest] action in our country. We are already seeing it in the higher education space with fees-must-fall [protests].”

A practical peri-urban intervention

The Department of Trade and Industry published the YES initiative in the Government Gazette in August 2018. It enables organisations to enhance their B-BBEE levels by providing jobs for young black people. A lack of work experience is a major barrier to finding employment. YES asks companies to give youth 12 months’ work experience. “This is a chance for the young person to be de-risked from the next opportunity. We encourage absorption, but where absorption is not possible, the young people will get a verified CV and reference letter from a supervisor,” said Beja.

YES is also establishing skills training hubs in townships to overcome spatial inequality. In Tembisa, young people learn about hydroponics at such a hub, growing lettuce and spring onions. “We are committed to creating eight hubs this year with funding from corporates. We don’t build the hubs unless the offset agreements to sell the produce are in place.”

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Antoinette Oosthuizen, HSRC science writer

The Youth Employment Service initiative establishes skills training hubs in townships to overcome spatial inequality and enables organisations to enhance their B-BBEE levels by providing jobs for young black people.
Source: YES