Diary of the unemployed: The fear, the desperation and the despair

The much-anticipated Jobs Summit, held on October 4 and 5 in Midrand, was presented by President Cyril Ramaphosa and constituencies from the government, labour, business and the community.

With an unemployment rate of 27.2%, the majority being youth, there were high expectations, and many high hopes that it would not be another talk shop.

I too graduated and was unemployed for about six months after obtaining a journalism qualification. It made me question the worthiness of my degree, but more so, the labour sector in South Africa.

Something wasn't right. How could I obtain a degree in three years, hoping to excel in my chosen career, but encounter so many barriers merely searching for a graduate position?

Jumping through hoops

There are thousands of job applications each day. With so many graduates and other unemployed people sending through applications with the hope of receiving a call back, the process is daunting.

Often, a job requirement includes years of experience. How are we, as graduates, supposed to obtain this experience if we are not hired for entry-level positions?

But then again, the problem with entry level positions is that there is no guarantee that a permanent position will be on the table. The Jobs Summit might create jobs, but are these jobs sustained or are they a dead end? 

In my own search my family was there for me when I went to interviews, travelling quite a distance to get there without getting a call back or even an email with feedback.

Still, it was hard. When you get an interview but no call back, you start to question if you are doing something wrong or just not good enough.

The distance to here

Distance and cost is a barrier to many seeking employment, and many don’t have the support I had. I live far from many major companies, so I spent a lot of money getting to interviews. There was the thought of paying off the student loan – which meant there was that much more pressure to get a permanent position.

And then there is exploitation. At the beginning of the year, I did get one job. The job required us (graduates only) to do cold calling as a way to sell products.

It was commission-based only, with no basic salary, so there was no guarantee you would get paid, or how much. To this day, I feel exploited by that company, which only targeted graduates. So many scams exploit graduates desperate for employment. It is disheartening.

A bigger problem

So what is the solution? The Jobs Summit focused on collaborative and high-impact interventions to drive job creation, job retention and economic growth. It seemed to have some answers to my questions, I thought. 

"Unemployment is the greatest challenge facing our country at this moment in its history. Unemployment diminishes our ability to eradicate poverty, tackle inequality and improve the lives of the working class and poor," Ramaphosa rightly said in his opening address at the summit.

The Jobs summit was a response to the cries from the unemployed, promising to create 275 000 jobs each year for the next five years.

It was, in some ways, inspiring, in that the measures taken to address the job crisis were specific, and Ramaphosa gave a time frame for the implementation of these plans. The document signed by all Nedlac social partners outlines the interventions put in place to combat job losses and unemployment, with the establishment of a task team that will need to report regularly on the progress of interventions to the Presidency. Continuous evaluation – alongside more regular discussion of the unemployment crisis and future interventions – is heartening.

The nagging question

But a nagging problem persists. I noticed one thing at the Jobs Summit that disturbed me. Though community representatives were there, the unemployed youth themselves – those for whom all these interventions are being taken, and those being addressed at the summit – were seemingly not part of the audience.

Shouldn't those being directly affected be the ones in the audience, raising their concerns and questions?

If those who are directly affected are not themselves delegates, then what is the point?

Perhaps that is why so many believed this was just another talk shop.

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