Youth unemployment remains an ever-present problem in South Africa, ranking as one of the highest in the world. Unemployment is a big dealbreaker in any economy, feeding into two of the country’s other big socio-economic challenges: poverty and inequality.
According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey, the youth aged 15-24 years are the most vulnerable in the South African labor market as the unemployment rate among this age was 59,0% in the first quarter of 2020. Among graduates in this group, the unemployment rate was 33,1%.
But, there is hope… and it starts with education.
“As high as it is, the graduate unemployment rate is still lower than the rate among those with other educational levels. This indicates that education is still key to improving young people’s prospects in the South African labor market,” says Leana de Beer, Chief Executive Officer of online crowdfunding platform, Feenix.
Human Nature Consulting Director Jo-Anne Hay, believes that one of the greatest assets of any country is their human capital. “It is imperative that graduates are trained and developed in such a way that they are able to contribute to the growth and sustainability of South Africa.”
Hay explains that there must be a direct connection between the content of tertiary education and the skills needed to grow the economy so that when individuals graduate, they are immediately able to use their skills in a meaningful way.
“Absorbing graduates into meaningful postgraduate programmes where their skills development is further developed to ensure that they are able to support the development of the South African economy is critical.”
While a tertiary qualification is an enabler of employment and poverty reduction, with thousands of students enrolling into universities annually, it has become evident that ongoing skills development, agility and versatility in the workplace is critical.
De Beer supports this point, adding that continuous skills development allows graduates and young professionals alike to have the versatility to adapt to changing business environments.
“Graduates should never underestimate the power that comes from adding new skills to their arsenal. We are seeing a rapid rise in various business sectors relying on employees to have a widening grasp of skill sets to optimally perform tasks – particularly digital know-how and understanding.”
Lunga Silevu, a third-year Civil Engineering student at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, is a prime example of the importance of ongoing skills development. Silevu showed that even if you are majoring in a specific field, you need to be able to be agile to survive during difficult times.
Silevu started as student needing a formalized platform to fundraise for his studies and became a Feenix Student Ambassador in 2020.
Unfortunately, he was negatively impacted by the nationwide lockdown, not being able to work on campus at his university’s computer lab that helped him cover his daily expenses. Not letting this get him down, Silevu reached out to Feenix for assistance.
“Through his relationship with Feenix and his hard work as an ambassador, he was top of mind when a company came to us looking for a social media virtual assistant,” says de Beer. “Not only did this allow him to cover his daily expenses but it also helped him to further grow his network and skillsets as a young professional.”
“Education is one of the most powerful drivers that will allow us as a nation to respond to the changes that we are experiencing,” says de Beer.
“If this year has taught us anything, it is that we have to adapt. Corporates and many other big organizations can learn from Lunga’s story about being agile and open to changing with the times. More importantly, education, coupled with an agile spirit has the power to help us tackle youth unemployment in the country.”