Despite Having Degrees, South African Youth Remain Unemployed

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Although many young South Africans leave school and pursue qualifications at tertiary institutions, more than half of the youth remain outside the labour market. The government has various plans in place to deal with this issue.

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An alarming number of South Africans are unemployed, and even more concerning is the number of youth who sit without jobs once leaving school each year. With the growing population, this becomes more of a problem year after year.

The Youth Unemployment Challenge In South Africa

While roughly one million South Africans leave school each year, approximately 57% remain unemployed. A further 28% enter the post-schooling education sector, while only the remaining 15% secure employment.

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) reports that the unemployment rate amongst youth aged 15-24 is staggering in comparison to the unemployment rate amongst those ages 25-34 years old.

It has also been noted that there is a strong correlation between education level and the opportunities a young person has. However, when not everyone has equal access to the same opportunities, it is challenging to resolve this issue.

Millions of South Africans are dependent on social relief grants from the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), while others have to rely on funding from government schemes, private companies and educational institutions if they wish to pursue a post-school qualification.

Causes Of Youth Unemployment

In the 2023 academic year, the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has funded more than one million students so that they can pursue higher education. Receiving a post-school qualification opens more doors for these students, however, it is not enough for the students who fall into the “missing middle” category.

Still, even with more funding opportunities for youth, South Africa has a growing labour market, which the economy cannot keep up with. Another issue of this was seen earlier this year when our tertiary institutions were faced with a critical student accommodation shortage.

In the last 25 years, South Africa has seen more and more young people applying to colleges and universities. Higher learning institutions have been unable to accommodate this oversupply of students, and now we are seeing the same issue when these students graduate and enter the job market. So even graduates with a high level of education remain jobless.

A lack of relevant work experience, limited social capital and insufficient resources for job searching can also account for the high unemployment rate.

Youth Employment Initiatives And Interventions

In response to the dire youth unemployment challenges the country is dealing with, The Department of Science and Technology, the HSRC and the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) have established and implemented a number of internship programmes and Presidential Youth Employment Initiatives (PYEI) in an effort to provide opportunities to young people.

One of the most successful of these campaigns is the PYEI, where young people were given employment as teacher assistants at schools around the country. This initiative saw over one million jobs being created as a result.

Besides providing employment opportunities, this initiative has had positive results, such as providing an income for many young people who are the only breadwinners in their families, as well as helping others find their passion and purpose.

The PYEI is currently in phase four, which will come to an end in September, with many eager youths hoping for a fifth phase.

Joint partnerships between the Department and the NYDA are aimed at providing internship opportunities for young people so that they can gain workplace experience thus becoming more employable. Plans are in place to improve this existing initiative as well as developing an electronic system to track young people as they look for work.

The Government has invested roughly R70 million into reducing youth unemployment.

There has been an increase in the number of interns with disabilities in the 2022/23 financial year, in comparison to the previous financial year when the target was not met. The NYDA has further called for people with disabilities to be included in these internship programmes.

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Youth unemployment in South Africa is one the most important socio-economic challenges faced in the country. The issue has worsened so much so that for most young people that not even having a qualification has helped them find employment.


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