Dire state of SA’s born-frees

2014-07-08 00:00

THE recent statistics on youth unemployment in South Africa, 36,1% (an increase of four percent between 2008 and 2014), suggest a daunting reality — our born-frees face a bleak future.

As a young South African, I’m increasingly seeing many of my peers facing growing challenges. With jobs being scarce, having onerous policies such as the BEE code (which has done little to empower the previously disadvantaged) and a poor education system, I can’t help but ask if the new South Africa is failing us. While some young people have taken strides to craft better lives for themselves, others have resorted to what can best be described as “illicit income-generating activities” to help them get by, while others simply waste their lives away on drugs and alcohol.

The challenges young people face are greater than what the politicians realise. Not only do we have to make something out of a society that has classified us according to gender, race, ethnicity or class, but we find ourselves having to hustle, constantly seeking opportunities, and most of the time our efforts are fruitless.

What can be done to address the challenges young people face?

Education is key. First, we should create an education system that helps young people become job creators and not job seekers. One of the world’s economic giants, China, has invested heavily in education. In fact, it has the largest education system in the world. In June, there were 9,39 million pupils taking the National Higher Education entrance examination (GAO Kao) in China. In addition, it has a constant teacher-development system. Once teachers are employed in a school, there is a system of induction and continuous professional development in which groups of teachers work together with master teachers on lesson plans and improvement — a lead SA should be following.

Encourage entrepreneurship at an early stage

For a developing economy like ours, entrepreneurship and social innovation are vital to unlocking growth and economic inclusion. Unfortunately, there is inadequate focus and a lack of an innovation culture within schools and tertiary institutions with regard to the practical skills required to start, manage and work in entrepreneurial ventures.

Over 60% of businesses that are started in SA fail within the first year. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report, this can largely be attributed to four major challenges.

• Culture — entrepreneurship is not encouraged as a career in our schools, where there is more focus on seeking employment than creating employment.

• Skills — a lack of knowledge, experience, business and entrepreneurial skills, largely due to a lack of formal education and training. Again, a remedial policy involving entrepreneur workshops and seminars would go a long way to instilling a culture of entrepreneurship.

• Support — a lack of government, private sector, parental and school support for enterprise skills hinders the growth of these skills at a young age.

• Finance — while finance is available, it is difficult to access. For the few who try to establish and mimic some business prowess, the red tape around access and other restrictions continues to hinder a vibrant society of young entrepreneurs.

Address skills shortage

Lastly, South Africa has a skills shortage and it is one of the main reasons for the high unemployment in the country, especially among the poor. This is largely attributed to the scourge of apartheid, when the education system served mainly the white minority. The government’s suggestion of graduates undertaking a year of community service sounds like a worthwhile idea, but the downside of this is that it would delay by a year the period within which graduates enter the labour market.

What the government should rather do is implement strategies that would help expand opportunities for in-service training or internships for graduates.

With Youth Day having just passed, many honoured the young lives of those who fought for a democratic South Africa with celebrations. I think that a better way to do this is to roll up our sleeves and start solving the problems faced by the youth, problems that prevent them from realising their potential to be productive and fulfilled citizens.

• Abram Molelemane is with the Graduate Asset Programme (www.gogap.co.za), which is aimed at reducing graduate unemployment and growing the small and medium-enterprise sector.

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