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Sector Spotlight: Solving Youth Unemployment

Updated: Jun 17, 2021

Lungile Zakwe believes that as South Africans we should be ashamed of ourselves for the current situation our youth find themselves in. She sits on the board of the National Association of Social Change Entity in Education, and has several years of management experience in youth development NGOs. She believes in the power and potential that youth hold, but she is disappointed in the national response to a youth unemployment crisis that has left 3 out of 4 youth (16-34 years old) structurally unemployed.

Her experience working with youth development has emphasized the importance of mental health in tackling this issue. Young people are often told to develop their own businesses if they cannot find work, but these are the same youth who cannot afford transport money to leave their homes in the morning. According to Lungile, “we’re not taking a human-centric or rather a youth-centric solution to our problems”.

The potential of our youth is endless

This is the focus of the work of Lisa Garson, founder of Action Volunteers Africa, an organisation placing youth as volunteers to gain work experience. She is also the co-founder of Breaking Beliefs – a programme that focuses on supporting young people to identify their limiting beliefs and unlock their true potential. In her work across the development sector and youth unemployment, she has seen little utilization of the huge potential army of youth labour that could change the trajectory of the country and the potential of our youth at the same time. She has seen the poor response from government and the corporate sector and decided to focus on the potential of the youth themselves. She encourages volunteering, and also acknowledges that we need new far-reaching creative solutions to youth unemployment, because so far no intervention has slowed the youth unemployment rate which continues to spiral out of control.

Mbuyi Yanta, Personal Development Coach at Codex, an initiative training youth to become software developers, is committed to being part of the solution to youth unemployment, “because I can see the impact of youth unemployment on our communities”. Mbuyi feels we could be setting up more skill- based training institutions and programmes instead of sending young people who have just finished school straight to university where they battle to survive and build up debt.

The software development industry could provide countless jobs if enough training is provided

In his opinion there any many opportunities for work that don’t require university qualifications, such as coding where there are hundreds of thousands of opportunities. There could also be initiatives getting young people involved in community psycho-social support where the need is endless. Other opportunities to improve the self-confidence of youth and give them working experience through volunteering and personal development could be scaled up and explored since he sees that very little is being done in this area.

Nandi Tshabane is the Family Manager at FunDza and is passionate about youth and community development as she believes that this is key to dealing with many of the social and economic pressures that South Africa currently faces. She believes that if youth are not working there will be no progress in the country. She feels that the wrong people are working in youth development. From her experience the organisations trying to make inroads into solving this issue are not sufficiently rooted in the communities, they are not having the right conversations and they are not listening to what young people want, need and lack.

Careers in the Fight Against Youth Unemployment

Jacqui Boulle is currently the Head of the Youth and After School Programme Office in the Western Cape government. She says anyone who seeks a career in solving youth unemployment needs a 150% work ethic and focus to match, because the scale of the work to be done is so demanding. However, she has found this to be an extremely rewarding career path. The sector is dynamic and solutions are always adapting, so she never stops learning.

Jacqui has seen that there are roles for technical analysts in order for us to use the data we have to our advantage. Writing and reflection are also very important to the success of this work, as the learnings from our successes in youth unemployment are often forgotten or hard to find.

“We need people who can write about the success stories and show others how to follow in those footsteps.” – Jacqui Boulle, Head: Youth and After School Programme Office, WC Government

There are also many opportunities for collaborative project managers – people who can relate from the boardroom to the street level and communicate the issues to both. Jacqui believes collaboration is key to the success of any programme that aims to enable young people to step out of their difficult situation and into their power.

Mbuyi believes we need people working in this field who are more curious about why young people are how they are and less judgemental about the symptoms of youth unemployment. We need people to ask why instead of labelling youth as lazy, unambitious etc. He would encourage anyone wanting to get involved in youth unemployment to work with organisations that have done the research and understands the needs of unemployed youth. He would also ask them if they can see the potential of the young people – if they see young people as broken, or helpless, they won’t be the right person. Solving youth unemployment involves creating spaces for young people to thrive.

Lungile also has been passionate about liaising with senior stakeholders to ensure people in positions of power give youth the social capital and education they deserve. We need social advocates who can fight on behalf of our youth and hold government and the private sector accountable for their fiscal and humanitarian responsibilities. Empathy and good listening skills are key attributes for success in this regard.

When choosing an organisation to collaborate with, Jacqui believes it is important to know what you are trying to achieve first. Research the organisation you are interested in and see if their work resonates with you. Whether it is a grassroots skills-development programme or high-level capacity building at a large scale, try to envision how you would personally fit into the existing capacity the organisation has.

If we don’t address the unemployment bulge that young people face, the long-term costs to society will be astronomical. Much of the fiscal investment to fight youth unemployment is given to short-term projects that do not have a long-term impact, which means we cannot rely on government to make this right. There is also a lack of space for young people to express themselves, which makes their situation even harder. Jacqui argues that we need an empathetic, data-driven and knowledge-based approach to this issue, and currently we are in need of new ideas and fresh faces to assist in this great fight for the rights of our youth to work.

Nandi believes that many young people have given up and are no longer expecting a solution from the outside. They are not aware of many of the opportunities that do exist, as organisations who are trying to bring in solutions do not liaise sufficiently with their targeted communities, do not advertise their offerings in the right places and do not have much understanding of how to ignite young people and get them to take action. She believes that any initiative trying to attract youth participants needs to use foot soldiers (i.e., young employees or hybrid volunteers) to target all youth community-based organisations, libraries, public spaces, schools etc.

She has seen first-hand the potential of youth and pointed out that when they are under pressure, they are able to perform. In Langa, where she lives, the Covid lockdowns triggered a big surge in youth-led entrepreneurial initiatives, with young people setting up small shops, distributing masks and sanitizers and providing a variety of services to their community.

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