Overeducated and unemployable

2012-04-28 16:16

Earlier this month, Time magazine published a chilling article titled The Jobless Generation.

The writer tracked the rising problem of young people around the world who have not been able to break into the job market, mainly owing to the protracted downturn in the economy.

Ironically, this young generation is also the most educated of all preceding ones.

A disturbing pattern is emerging. Postgraduates who cannot find work “boomerang” back to university to gain a higher level of education, hoping this will improve their employment prospects. It seldom does.

They attempt to find work, usually can’t and boomerang back to university to complete their master’s.

The domino effect we are already witnessing is a surplus of overeducated young people with no work experience, creating a frustrating, soul-destroying catch-22. When the Occupy Wall Street movement first exploded last year, one of the posters brandished by the protesters read: “Overeducated and unemployable.” It said it all.

These desperate youths, armed with honours and PhDs, are competing with the rest of the unemployed masses for menial jobs like flipping burgers for fast-food franchises, or waiting tables.

Watching corrupt governments or greedy corporate companies reward themselves with bonuses or kickbacks without a shred of empathy for those who might be affected further down the line just adds resentment to their already high levels of frustration.

Their anger is tangible, and protests from Manhattan to Mpumalanga show that this is becoming a global trend. It is worth noting that the Arab Spring was ostensibly sparked by a price hike for bread, when there was an average of 25% youth unemployment in the Arab states.

In South Africa, this problem is exacerbated. Not only do we have a youth unemployment rate that is almost double that of the Arab states, but we have an extreme youth bulge (the global benchmark of a youth bulge is 40% of the population, and we have just more than a 65% youth population).

For those lucky enough to have emerged from our shambolic system with a decent education, their problems mirror those of their global peers. Their prized degrees are proving to be just as devalued, as more and more young people boomerang back to university to study further after a fruitless job-hunting experience.

For the majority who don’t make it through the education system, the future looks bleak. If half a million who registered for school in 2000 did not make it to the Class of 2011, how many others did we lose in the past three to five years, and how many more will not make it in the next five years?

If we continue to let these young people fall through the cracks, by 2015 we could add as many as 5 million to our growing “lost generation”.

This does not even factor in lowering the bar to 30% in terms of pass rates. As we continue to give these youngsters a false sense of hope and security, we are doing the future of our country a gross disservice.

Dr Mamphela Ramphele describes this as South Africa’s growing “dead capital” and the social problems that are spawned by allowing this dead capital to grow are already evident. The much-publicised rape of a mentally challenged girl by seven youths is a forewarning of where this problem might take us.

It’s easy to understand how Julius Malema was able to strike a chord in the hearts and minds of the disgruntled masses. To be uneducated, and feel desperate and hopeless is a toxic combination. If the alarm bells are not ringing, we must either be deaf or indifferent – and we can’t afford to be either.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends. Visit www.fluxtrends.com 

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