Young, jobless and desperate – Take the chance, and get ahead

2012-06-23 12:57

In June 2009, Nontle Mhlana ran out of money to further her studies and was forced to drop out of college after one semester.

The 21-year-old woman’s dream of obtaining an accounting and computing diploma from a college in Rosebank, Johannesburg, was shattered.

She looked set to swell the ranks of the unemployed.

So Mhlana devised a plan B.

The young woman from Philippi near Cape Town joined a local NGO, Sisona Sibane, which specialises in
home-based care and food security, so she could receive on-the-job training.

The NGO was involved in a partnership with the department of public works to offer desperate youngsters like Mhlana short-term employment opportunities through the second phase of its expanded public works programme (EPWP).

Many youngsters in the country may not have moved to better jobs after their contracts at various EPWP programmes expired but for Mhlana, Sisona Sibane was a solid stepping stone.

She is now permanently employed as a data capturer by the City of Cape Town.

She says: “I was working as an assistant administrator while at the same time undergoing NQF Level 4 training in marketing; and project, financial and business management. That’s how I became employable to be where I am today.”

Government introduced the programme in 2004 as a way to create job opportunities and give skills training to the unemployed and able-bodied through labour intensive jobs in the spheres of infrastructure, environment and small-enterprise development.

More ambitious than before, government launched the second phase of the programme in 2009, and extended its scope to partner with non-state and social sectors, such as community-based organisations, NGOs and non-profit organisations, in this job-creation drive.

The infrastructure component of the programme absorbs young people into minor road construction and maintenance work, and pipeline and stormwater drainage projects.

Those in the environment sphere eliminate alien plants, rehabilitate coastlines, and work to save water and protect wetlands.

According to Dr Miriam Altman, a Human Sciences Research Council researcher and member of the National Planning Commission, Mhlana’s training in the community care sector was the best way to go.

She says: “The largest opportunity in the EPWP is in community care – the home-based care, early childhood development and other community works programmes.

"There’s something in the training as I see more people getting jobs. I think it has to do with the interpersonal skills they get, which prepare them for jobs.

“For the marginalised youth it’s very difficult to break into mainstream jobs so community care is a good start.”

That is the springboard Tsietsi Tshabalala (30), a trainee nurse at Germiston Hospital in Gauteng, also used even though he did not finish high school.

Tshabalala had Grade 8 when he enlisted for the EPWP programme at the Peacemaker Home-based Care Centre in Katlehong in 2003.

He worked as a caregiver and received basic training in nursing, tuberculosis treatment, and management skills.

The following year, he volunteered at his local clinic and gained more hands-on training.

Tshabalala’s biggest break came in 2009 when he was admitted to second-level nursing training at Germiston Hospital.

By the end of June this year, he will be graduating as a qualified nurse.

Tshabalala says: “I had no particular skills and had not finished matric. When I joined the centre, I had absolutely nothing to give me an advantage. If I didn’t have this opportunity, I would still be stuck and frustrated.”

Altman says other short-term jobs created in the country by institutions including Statistics South Africa and the Independent Electoral Commission are also helpful in improving the youth’s prospects for jobs.

“Any opportunity is better than staying at home, honestly, as these youngsters get skills to improve their CVs.
All young people all over the world go from job to job until they find something regular,” says Altman.

“The extended public works programme realises that we have structural unemployment. There are three to four million youth that are inactive and the labour market grows at a certain rate and can generate just so many opportunities.

"That’s why there are proposals to have faster growth because that is the most sustainable way for job creation,” she adds.

A research paper titled Employer of Last Resort?

South Africa’s Expanded Public Works Programme, conducted by the University of the Western Cape’s Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, seems to agree.

Researcher Charles Meth says in the paper, which was published in March last year: “The creation of low-paid, government-funded employment may not be the solution to the structural unemployment problem, but it
would go some way towards creating income security for those millions who currently do not enjoy this luxury.”

According to Meth, the programme contributes to reducing unemployment by three means:
» Through the work opportunities created directly by the programme;
» When the programme’s beneficiaries find jobs elsewhere or start their own businesses; and
» In the home and community based care sector, which provides jobs for longer periods of between 12 and 24 months. In his analysis, Meth describes the expanded public works programme as the country’s “largest labour market intervention”. However, he continues: “Critical analysis suggests that contrary to the hype, the programme has thus far made little lasting impact on the poverty and unemployment it is supposed to address.” According to Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, the second phase of the programme, which began in 2009 and will run until 2014, aims to create 4.5 million work opportunities. “With more than two-million work opportunities already created since 2009, we are well on the way to exceeding that target,” says Nxesi. The programme, according to the minister, would expand into new areas including the rehabilitation and maintenance of branch railway lines, and the maintenance of border fences.

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