An important segment of the labour market received much needed attention from policymakers, academics and NGOs in Cape Town this week. REDl3x3 and the Poverty and lnequality lnitiative (PII) at UCT presented a Policy Colloquium on Youth, inequality and the labour market on 19 April 2016. Derick Blaauw from our School attended.
This is an opportune time for this type of initiative given that an estimated one third of youth in South Africa is unable to find employment, and more than 50 per cent live in poverty. The point of departure according to the programme note was twofold: Firstly the relationship between poverty and unemployment in South Africa is well established as is the one between education and employment. The programme note states further that research show that the lower a young person’s level of qualifications, the greater the probability is that they will be unemployed or employed in some form of marginal informal economic activity. The programme note captures the stark reality: “More than half of those, even with matric, are unemployed. And for those who drop out earlier, the likelihood of being unemployed is even higher. The alarming fact in South Africa is that less than half of those who enrol in first grade make it through matric. And of those, only 14% pass matric with university exemption. There is a massive cliff between the end of Grade 9 and Grade 12, when about half of all students give up on school. The structure of our economy is such that those with the lowest skills are the least likely to find employment. Half the population is now under the age of 25, and one fifth is aged between 15 and 24. ln societies where the economy is less unequal, or grows in a more inclusive way, this large youth cohort would constitute a “demographic dividend”. it should be the basis of an energetic, working society that could propel South Africa into a future of prosperity to be more equally shared. But the reality is that we have a large cohort of semi trained, probably disaffected youth who have scant chances of finding employment or accessing further training.”
The colloquium aimed at finding possible policy options in order to actively do something about this. The colloquium acknowledged that the conventional answer is attempts to improve our ailing education system with the aim of achieving improved matric pass rates. Even if we assume that these efforts are successful it is not going to be the magic silver bullet. The meeting used experts from the private sector government and academia to look at other pathways that can integrate youth more fully into the economy so they can become “…independent and engaged citizens of a growing country.”
The role of NGOs as intermediaries was discussed, followed by a discussion of the possible role of the informal sector in terms of youth training or employment. Issues of skills development and the role of the public sector also received attention. Unique to this colloquium was the fact the youth was provided with a platform for their own voices to be heard. Zebedia Ntini and Shandre Van Rheede (both of whom recently graduated from the Raymond Ackermann Academy) described the positive roles played by this intervention that changed the course of their lives. This was followed by examples of the positive role played by NGOs to facilitate the bridging of the gap between school and formal employment.
The colloquium concluded that much needs to be done and that there is no one silver bullet in this battle. Focusing all resources on one aspect such as the FET colleges will still leave at millions of young people neither in further education or active in the labour market. The battle goes on but at least it is on the agenda of several universities, NGOs, the private sector and government. That that is a good thing we can all agree on! The day ended with a dinner with an inspirational message from Professor Njabulo Ndebele (Chair, Mandela Rhodes Foundation).