Rising Graduate Unemployment Needs Government Intervention

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South Africa’s unemployment rate among graduates has skyrocketed drastically over the last decade, leaving graduates with very few options, despite spending years acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to enter the labour market.

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Statistics South Africa’s recent publication of unemployment figures for Q1 2023 reported that the country’s official unemployment rate grew to 32.9% from 32.7% in Q4 2022.

Although the graduate unemployment rate remains relatively low in South Africa compared to those of other educational levels, the 10.6% unemployment rate for graduates is far higher than the 5.5% recorded in Q1 2013 – marking a 5.1% increase over the past decade.

Due to the limited number of jobs which are readily available in the country, university graduates are not always able to secure immediate relevant employment once they have completed their studies. 

Thousands of graduates have raised concerns and urged government and the Higher education department to implement measures that can assist them in finding employment. 

Responding to a recent parliamentary question on unemployed graduates, the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) noted that they have initiated several interventions to combat graduate unemployment.

University graduates

The department noted that they are participating in the Presidential Youth Employment Stimulus (PES) programme, which opportunities for unemployed graduates to gain useful university-based experience in a range of areas that can improve their readiness for employment and open career pathways that may not have been available without work experience.

In 2021/22 financial year an amount of R90 million was allocated to support the programme across all 26 universities with 3000 graduates placed on contract to support core administration and operations in core business areas, teaching and learning and research.

The DHET has allocated an amount of R93 million for the implementation of the second phase of the programme.

They explain, “All 26 universities are participating and have started recruiting and placing graduates as per the plans received by the Department. It is anticipated that approximately 3000 graduates will be employed across universities.”

In addition, the department has also decided to conduct tracer studies in this financial year to establish which universities yield graduate employment and in which fields of study.

Once the study is completed, further support will be provided to the lagging universities.

TVET college graduates

Last year, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande urged all employers to open their workplaces for the placement of both TVET college students as well as to give workplace exposure to WET college lecturers, so that what is taught is relevant and needed by industry.

The Minister emphasized the importance of establishing partnerships with industry for student placements to the extent that he recently gave a directive that all TVET college Principals should sign new Performance Agreements that include Industry Partnerships as one of their Key Performance Indicators.

Nzimande said the primary aim of these placements was to assist the transition of young people from learning to working.

The department notes that there are signs that a partnership between all the key stakeholders (TVET colleges, SETAs, and industry) is beginning to work as the roles and contribution of each partner are becoming clearly defined and understood by all. 

Furthermore, the department says that their vision is to provide an integrated and coordinated Post-School Education and Training (PSET) system for improved economic participation and social development of the youth and adults.


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