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Youth unemployment in Africa needs innovative solutions and political will

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Picture: ANA files – South Africa leads the way in Africa on unemployment, followed by Djibouti and Eswatini, with jobless statistics at around 28 percent and 26 percent, respectively.

By Edwin Naidu

Job creation initiatives in South Africa don’t usually get good press. We are constantly fed alarming figures from Statistics South Africa, which says that unemployment is around 36 percent, the majority of them youth.

South Africa leads the way in Africa on unemployment, followed by Djibouti and Eswatini, with jobless statistics at around 28 percent and 26 percent, respectively. At eight percent, according to the website, Niger and Benin have the lowest unemployment rates on the Continent.

The site revealed that in the past year, the youth unemployment rate in Africa averaged around 13 percent, while it was worst in Djibouti, which has a youth unemployment rate of almost 80 percent, the highest rate on the Continent.

Youth unemployment in South Africa is around 64 percent. Annually, that figure escalates by an estimated 400,000 as matriculants continue to be spewed out by an education system that ticks the boxes somewhat poorly, celebrating the cream of the crop but forgetting those who don’t make the grade.

According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for the first quarter of 2022, the unemployment rate was 63.9 percent for those aged 15-24 and 42.1 percent for those aged 25-34 years, while the current official national rate stands at 34.5 percent.

South Africa has more than 10 million young people aged 15-24 years, and, of these, only 2.5 million were in the labour force, either employed or unemployed. The largest share (7.7 million or 75.1 percent) of this group of young people are those out of the labour force (i.e. inactive). The main reason for being passive is discouragement – they have given up on finding a job.

While the outlook does not look bright, even a glimmer of hope involving young people ought to be celebrated, if only to make people believe that they may find little opportunities to give them a start.

One such recent example, via one of the few training bodies not tarnished by scandal, is making a concerted effort to shift the dial concerning tangible opportunities for young people in South Africa. CHIETA, the Chemical Industries Sector Education Training Authority, in partnership with the University of Johannesburg Business School and Chemin, the not-for-profit South African technology incubator, held its first graduation ceremony for small businesses that completed their inaugural entrepreneurship programme on November 10.

The impactful initiative represents a R2 million investment in the programme and is part and parcel of CHIETA’s long-term vision to fund 2,000 young entrepreneurs by 2025.

While the R2 million is a drop in the ocean, if it succeeds in churning out 100 small businesses, the multiplier effect regarding job creation and growing the economy would be immense. Imagine the impact of 2,000 people who have gone through the programme.

Beneficiaries of the first group were enthusiastic and encouraged by what they learnt. Mbali Ntsele from Lindamkhonto said she appreciated the group work where key issues were discussed, and everyone’s views heard.

Kefilwe Gabankile of Fiffy G Cosmetics enjoyed the group activities. “They gave us each role and responsibility, and we could share diverse perspectives. The pool of knowledge and skills was valuable.”

Isabella Tsakane from Mtiposo said learning financial management and about the growth and development of the chemical industry was fascinating. “Owning a small business is fulfilling with enormous rewards.”

Paul Masilo from Freshmo Brands said the course “brought value to each of us”. Yershin Pillay, the CHIETA chief executive, said the training authority has long been the principal agent in assisting SMMEs in the chemical sector and has, in past years, supported and sponsored Chemin with over R2 million for skills development programmes and a further R1 million for the Small Business Enrichment Programme facilitated by Chemin, in partnership with UJ’s Johannesburg Business School Centre for Entrepreneurship.

UJ Business School Centre for Entrepreneurship, Professor Randall Carolissen, Dean of the school, encouraged graduates to reach out to mentors if they encounter obstacles in the forthcoming months as their journey as entrepreneurs begin.

This is a small initiative; however, located in the bigger picture of a national industry under the banner of The Jobs Fund, something positive is happening. While researching a project that may not materialise because of the drawbacks of technology while travelling, I learned more about the fund than one typically reads.

An estimated R13.5 billion – and even substantially more at the time of writing– has been spent on a variety of initiatives and public-private partnerships, which have led to the creation of more than 280,000 jobs in its first decade with fantastic success stories in the township economies, farming and healthcare, among other priority areas, which also includes education and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).

The Jobs Fund was established in 2011 with a R9 billion allocation from the National Treasury, offering a targeted programme of support for effective labour market interventions leading towards job creation. But more important than statistics is the impact of these initiatives on society.

Mindful that South Africa’s challenges require a mix of innovative funding instruments that can support innovation, de-risk projects and encourage more effective partnerships delivered through a professional and skilled organisation, the Fund has tested several of these approaches with success stories that can be scaled.

An example of supporting inclusive growth in informal, township and rural economies was A2Pay, a point-of-sale solution, providing more than 3,000 spaza shop owners with the technology to bring vital pre-paid services and products to peri-urban and rural communities.

Another success has seen the R600 million Hortin Fund grant to help reduce the cost of capital for emerging farmers and SMMEs. This has made an enormous difference.

In providing access to quality healthcare in marginalised communities, the Unjani Clinic is an Enterprise Development initiative empowering black women nurses to own and operate their primary healthcare clinics. The project develops new businesses, creates new jobs within each clinic and promotes affordable primary healthcare.

Given the country’s extensive education and skills training needs, the Fund has provided training programmes that improve the chances of youth securing employment. Two initiatives are opening the door to self-employment. One is via the Columba Leadership programme, which delivers a programme to school-going learners to help them develop 21st-century workplace skills. At the same time, SmartStart aims to improve access to early learning in the most vulnerable areas in South Africa while creating self-employment and employment opportunities.

The private sector has also been critical in achieving the Fund’s goals. The Automotive Industry Development Centre (AIDC) by the Japanese automobile manufacturer Nissan is an incubation hub and training centre that supports artisans and black-owned automotive component suppliers. The project produces qualified artisans and capacitated SMMEs that manufacture and supply automotive components.

A priority that one cannot ignore is the 4IR; here, the Fund has been playing a pivotal role in developing skills through CCI Careerbox, a job creation tool.

Tackling unemployment is not something that they can do alone; the Fund has over 100 partners and, through these partnerships, has been able to intervene across multiple sectors of the economy.

It’s easy to become despondent, accepting the narrative that the youth have no future in South Africa. But this is far from the truth. Change is happening, albeit slowly. But if like-minded people replicate these nuggets, the dent in unemployment would surely be more significant.

One would hope so but spare a thought for those making a difference and giving the youth in South Africa – and on the continent hope.

Naidu is a journalist and communications expert. He also heads up Higher Education Media Services – a social enterprise start-up committed to stimulating dialogue and raising awareness around education and the socio-economic, environmental, and political factors it influences in South Africa and the African Continent.

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