How to break the jobless cycle

2014-07-01 10:00

Last month’s release of Global Employment Trends for Youth 2013 by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) makes for sobering reading.

Worldwide, youth unemployment is estimated at 12.6% and growing. South African statistics are worse. Stats SA has just reported that the unemployment rate among 15-to 34-year-olds is on the rise and now sits at 36%.

The cost of this crisis, economically and socially, is immense. The ILO references these millions of out-of-work young people as a generation at risk?–?and I agree.

It highlights several reasons for this, some are consistent globally and others are regionally specific. In South Africa, we need to focus on the employability of young people and find ways to bridge the stubborn divide that exists between those included and excluded from the economy.

This is because when young people are excluded, the socioeconomic impact on them and their families puts the economy and society at risk.

When a young person gets a job, there are profound positive impacts, especially if they come from a poor family and can break the cycle of economic exclusion. So we urgently need to tackle inclusive youth employment.

Our experience at the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator has shown that improving youth employment is more than just placement; job retention is essential. We need to grow the pool of work-ready young people with the skills to match the needs of the economy.

Based on Harambee’s empirical data on first-time jobseekers, it is clear the education system has not prepared young people for work.

Literacy and numeracy levels of our matriculants are low and this has a far-reaching impact on employment. Without the ability to engage effectively in conversational English or demonstrate basic numerical, analytical and problem-solving skills, it is difficult to secure an entry-level job in a business environment or the public service.

But even a young person who beats the odds and finds a job is generally ill-equipped to handle the daily pressures of the world of work due to a lack of behavioural readiness for work.

It’s not surprising that companies consider first-timers risky to employ. They believe a deficit in skills and work preparedness, combined with psychosocial challenges, are time-consuming and costly to manage.

But many of these young people have potential and the right attributes to succeed, so if they can be matched to the right opportunity, and be given the exposure and experience they need to thrive in the workplace, we can create a sustained cycle of youth employment and economic growth.

For a new generation of employees who have grown up in homes and communities with limited exposure to work, understanding the right behaviour that ensures success at work is critical.

Equally important is matching each person to a job they are suited to regarding aptitude and attributes. It’s not always easy to get this right because school results are often not a true indicator of potential. A person’s tendencies towards certain interests and abilities, and their propensity to learn, must be assessed and, we believe, can be achieved through rigorous scientific processes.

The ILO report is correct that in addition to their impact on economic growth, jobs are an integral component of development. It is our view that employers must commit to taking on first-time workers who are otherwise at risk of long-term unemployment.

Galombik is the executive director at Yellowwoods Investments and the founder of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator

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