Economic growth is critical in creating jobs but on its own, it is insufficient. There are five key barriers that still block young people from participating in the labour market. These are:
1. A lack of integrated policy design and implementation. There are a plethora of agencies across all levels of government tasked with addressing aspects of youth unemployment, including skills development. But they are poorly co-ordinated and their implementation and accountability structures are weak.
2. Our education system still fails most young people, leaving many without the basic skills required by employers. Children in no-fee schools perform particularly badly, with half dropping out before they reach matric. The post-school education system also struggles to provide students with the necessary guidance, support and skills to prepare for the workplace.
3. Many employers are reluctant to hire young people, largely because of a distrust in the quality of education.
4. The individual and household barriers poor young people face are significant, including low skills levels, the high costs of finding work, not knowing how to look for work, and limited social networks.
Economic growth is critical; so is the political will to improve the education system to equip pupils with basic and technical skills, as well as opportunities to complete post-secondary education. These are fundamental, but there is much to be done while we work on these longer-run changes.
An immediate imperative is a carefully forged social compact between government, educators and trainers, employers, nongovernmental organisations, trade unions and young people themselves that views addressing the challenge not only as socially desirable, but also as a critical investment in the future.
The priorities must be to:
- Equip youth with the necessary skills. This includes improving the education system, ensuring that young people complete at least matric or an equivalent by providing them with the support to stay in appropriate school and post-school education options, and making “school-to-work” advice an integral part of learning;
- Actively encourage employers to give young first-time work seekers a foot on the employment ladder, through both private sector and public sector measures;
- Pay particular attention to small business, which currently employs two thirds of employed youth; Help young people with work-seeker support, such as producing CVs and reference letters, as well as practical support to (re)connect to the education and training system; and
- Ensure a co-ordinated and accountable system of government agencies tasked with youth development. The plethora of youth desks across the country needs to be reviewed and rationalised so they can more effectively focus on youth employment.