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SOUTH AFRICA: Young, Educated and Unemployed

Miriam Mannak

CAPE TOWN, Jun 30 2009 (IPS) - Unemployment among young South Africans is hovering at 30 percent, shooting up to over 60 percent for youths in their late teens and early twenties. But tertiary education and skills development seem not to be making much of a dent in what is now regarded as a crisis.

According to a 2008 report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise, a conservative think tank that researches the effect of poverty and unemployment on South Africa’s economic growth rate, 65 percent of the four million youths between 15 and 24 that were available for a job in 2005, were unemployed.

Pre-recession figures by the state-owned Human Sciences Research Council furthermore show that about 30 percent of youths between 25 and 34 are jobless.

Low education levels only form part of the problem. Recent statistics by a Cape Town-based consumer research agency called Eighty20 show that almost two-thirds of South African adults did not have a high school diploma in 2005. In that same year, only 8.4 percent of the population was in possession of a tertiary qualification.

Government statistics furthermore show that 24 percent of South Africans older than 25 are illiterate.

‘‘This crisis is growing, as many youngsters are not in school, drop out or do not have some sort of a degree,’’ said Mike Abrams, programme co-ordinator at Change Moves, a development and training co-operative that offers training, capacity building and management services.

The South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), in partnership with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and various other organisations, last week held a conference on the issue in the coastal city of Cape Town, which ended on Jun 26. SANGOCO is a network of NGOs concerned with developmental issues while COSATU is the largest labour federation in South Africa.

Education, although acknowledged as being important at the summit, should not be seen as the only answer to the problem, declared Damaris Fritz, chair of SANGOCO’s Western Cape provincial executive committee. ‘‘These days it is all about papers and if you can’t show that you have studied, you can forget about it,’’ Fritz told IPS in an interview.

She argued that the private sector should rather think ‘‘out of the box’’ and focus less on degrees and diplomas. ‘‘The fact that you cannot present a diploma does not mean you don’t have anything to offer. On the contrary, there are countless examples of South Africans who do not have a doctorate or high school diploma but who are very successful,’’ she added.

She regards South Africa’s former finance minister Trevor Manuel as an example.

‘‘Because prior learning education – knowledge gathered outside the formal education system – is not being recognised, thousands of youngsters cannot find work,’’ she added.

Sid Luckett, director of the Masakh’ iSizwe Centre of Excellence, agreed that education is not everything, as ‘‘thousands of students who graduate from the University of Cape Town are unemployed’’.

The Masakh’ iSizwe Centre of Excellence was created in 2006 by the Western Cape province’s department of transport and public works and provides bursaries for students in various engineering fields, including civil, electrical and mechanical engineering.

Unemployment among South African graduates grew from 6.6 percent in 1995 to 9.7 percent five years later, according to a 2007 working paper titled ‘’Graduate unemployment in the face of skills shortages: A labour market paradox’’ by the University of Cape Town’s Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU). The unit researches labour markets, poverty and inequality.

This translated into 36,000 jobless people with degrees and 165,000 unemployed holders of diplomas and certificates.

The researchers identified various reasons why students remain unemployed after graduating. ‘‘The wrong types of graduates are being produced; there too few technical graduates,’’ the report stated.

Furthermore, many graduates were found to not to be suited to fill shortages at management level, or to struggle with a lack of ‘‘soft skills’’ such as time management, communication and creative thinking, or lacking the ability to work independently. One of the most salient reasons for graduate unemployment however, is a lack of practical experience.

Lack of working experience is exactly what worries 27-year-old Public Management student Thabo Nxovu, who attended the SANGOCO summit. ‘‘I am fortunate enough to be able to go to university but the possibility to gain experience during my studies is limited,’’ he told IPS. ‘‘It is difficult to find a traineeship for some reason.

‘‘So yes, I am worried, as most jobs require at least one year of experience. So what do I do when I have graduated?’’

Bronwyn Abrahams, regional manager of the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority (MERSETA) in the Western Cape, acknowledges the problem. ‘‘It is difficult for students or graduates to find a traineeship or apprenticeship to gain experience,’’ she explained when IPS approached her.

‘‘Some companies have had bad experiences with trainees who did not deliver, while others have had to cut their budgets for training as a result of the current economic climate. Some companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), cannot afford training at all. That is why we plan to provide funding to SMEs who are willing to take on trainees.

‘‘This is important, as we cannot give young people opportunities if the corporate sector does not want to co-operate,’’ she added.

In addition, more energy should be put into skills training programmes for youngsters are not in school or who cannot find work. The department of social development of the Western Cape province has various programmes that deal with youth skills development.

The department also partners with relevant NGOs so that they can get funding for their programmes. According to the department’s website, the registration process takes two months.

But, Mike Abrams pointed out, ‘‘it is not easy for NGOs to register and apply for funding. It takes sometimes half a year to a year. NGOs cannot access assistance due to red tape and bureaucracy. This needs to change if we were to help our youths’’.

The same complaints about red tape were raised against MERSETA. The government set up Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) specially to address South Africa’s shortfall in skills. SETAs aim to identify the skills demands in sectors and make training available to meet this demand.

Every employer in South Africa that is tax registered with an annual payroll in excess of 23,000 dollars have to register at the South African Revenue Services and pay a skills development levy, which is one percent of the total remuneration paid to the company’s employees. About 80 percent of this amount, which goes to the national department of labour, is spent on the SETAs.

South Africans in need of skills training, can apply at the relevant SETA.

Bronwyn Abrahams acknowledges that the organisation could be more efficient: ‘‘We are indeed very bureaucratic and there is a lot of paperwork involved when companies apply for a skills training programme. We simply do not want to end up in the news because of corruption charges.’’

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