Back to basics in harnessing youth potential for SA, Africa’s growth

Delivering quality jobs for a burgeoning young contingent and preparing children for a world of change and progress was at the heart of the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ‘new deal’ SONA address. But, the country needs to go back to basics and up the ante on skills, training and youth entrepreneurship.

As the country prepares for the 10th BRICS Summit to be held in Johannesburg in July, one of the priority moot points will be how South Africa and the greater continent will deal with the rising tide of youth unemployment.

South Africa’s new President, Cyril Ramaphosa, delivers his State of the Nation address in parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. There are high expectations for Ramaphosa to curb corruption that flourished under his predecessor Jacob Zuma who resigned earlier in the week. Photo: Ruvan Boshoff/AP

South Africa will take over the presidency of BRICS from China.

Young people represent 66% of South Africa’s population and the challenge, at hand, is how to harness their collective potential to be productive and contribute to the growth of an inclusive, knowledge-driven industrial economy. In the continent the rate is 60%

Youth Unemployment Rate in South Africa decreased to 52.20 percent in the third quarter of 2017 from 55.90 percent in the second quarter of 2017. Youth Unemployment Rate in South Africa averaged 51.95 percent from 2013 until 2017, reaching an all-time high of 55.90 percent in the second quarter of 2017 and a record low of 48.80 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014 [tradingeconomics.com].

Researcher Zuzani Brixiová notes that in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, youth employment has been recognized as one of the major challenges of our times. It is also a top policy priority for policymakers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) who are eager to improve prospects for decent employment among the region’s youth. She points to Entrepreneurship as a powerful tool to ensure that young Africans be integrated into the labour market and spur economic growth.

“Entrepreneurship, if supported through the right policies, can provide an effective solution,” Brixiová asserts.

President Ramaphosa, alluded to this fact when he said at the centre of our national agenda in 2018 is the creation of jobs, especially for the youth. 

“We are going to embark on a number of measures to address the unemployment challenge. One of the initiatives will be to convene a jobs summit within the next few months to align the efforts of every sector and every stakeholder behind the imperative of job creation.”

He said the summit will look at what we need to do to ensure the economy grows and becomes more productive, that companies invest on a far greater scale, that workers are better equipped, and that our economic infrastructure is expanded. He expects the summit to come up with practical solutions and initiatives that will be implemented immediately.

It is clear that governments, across the BRICS countries, should work closely with the private sector, public institutions, civil society and community institutions to propel the youth to reach their full potential through the best educational system, the best infrastructure, and the strongest commitment to research and technological innovation.

As the launch of the NDP Youth Ambassadors,  Chairperson of the National Youth Development Agency Sifiso Mtsweni said the youth supports the NDP Vision 2030 and will carry it forward to fight youth unemployment, promote health and provide for the needs of young people. He said since the future belongs to the youth all government plans and programmes must focus on youth issues.

“We must increase efforts to ensure that the majority of young people have access to the correct skills development opportunities, have access to mentorship in the various sectors of the economy, are able to get in touch with the peers across the globe, have access to technology and finance to fund their projects. With these tools at the disposal, I have no doubt that, young people could drive the economic growth and social progress.”

Happy Ngidi of Proudly South African pledged her organisation’s support to the young entrepreneurs with technical resources and access to marketing collateral.

Experts say the factors hampering youth employment in Africa, the greater BRICS community and developing nations, are mostly structural and on the demand side of the labour market. Hence entrepreneurship, including youth entrepreneurship, can contribute to the solution.

Meanwhile, as Brixiová asserts, the lack of skills impacts the rate of productive start-ups, including among young people. “

“Recent studies by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) found that while entrepreneurship rates in SSA are high, the majority of entrepreneurs are driven by necessity rather than an opportunity. SSA has also higher rates of potential young entrepreneurs than other regions, but a substantial portion (about one third) of them is also driven to entrepreneurship out of necessity. Most new enterprises operate in low value-added sectors such as the retail trade. Further, in contrast to other regions, young entrepreneurs in SSA are less confident than their adult counterparts that they will be creating jobs over the next five years (Kew et al., 2013),” it was observed. 

As the role of self-employment and entrepreneurship in job creation has risen in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, policymakers in Africa and elsewhere have been considering training programmes for entrepreneurs. The focus, experts say,  has typically been on technical, managerial and financial literacy training, with the programmes drawing on evidence that selected skills tend to be correlated with better performance. 

One of the key challenges in assessing such training programmes has been the lack of evaluation. 

In his address, President Ramaphosa gave clear direction on youth empowerment, a message that will cascade to all the facets of the 10th BRICS Summit.

“Our most grave and most pressing challenge is youth unemployment. It is, therefore, a matter of great urgency that we draw young people in far greater numbers into productive economic activity. Young South Africans will be moved to the centre of our economic agenda. They are already forming a greater proportion of the labour force on our infrastructure projects and are the primary beneficiaries of programmes such as the installation of solar water heaters and the war on leaks,” he said.

Added President Ramaphosa: “We continue to draw young people in far greater numbers into productive economic activity through programmes such as the Employment Tax Incentive. Working in partnership with business, organised labour and community representatives, we are creating opportunities for young people to be exposed to the world of work through internships, apprenticeships, mentorship and entrepreneurship.”

He added that next month, the Youth Employment Service initiative, will be launched which will place unemployed youth in paid internships in companies across the economy. 

“Together with our partners in business, we have agreed to create a million such internships in the next three years.

If we are to respond effectively to the needs of youth, it is essential that young people articulate their views and are able to engage with government at the highest level. I will, therefore, be establishing a youth working group that is representative of all young South Africans to ensure that our policies and programmes advance their interests.”

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