Youth in SA townships could unlock job creation, summit hears

Paying young people in South Africa's townships for social types of work - whether running a book club or teaching others how to use Wi-Fi in the community - needs closer consideration and support, says development strategist Dr Kate Philip.

"We need to re-imagine what we talk about when we talk about the economy. It is more than just the market-based economy. A greater focus is needed on the social economy," she said during a workshop on youth unemployment in SA's townships at the Acceleration Inclusive Youth Employment conference hosted by the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator on Monday. The conference concluded on Tuesday.

"We have vast unemployment and yet there is a huge amount of work to be done to improve the lives of people in township communities. There is an opportunity for supporting social entrepreneurship among unemployed township youth and to assist them in getting 'work ready' in the process."

She emphasised that it should be a community-driven approach.

"Young people will be paid for the social value of their labour. It could, for instance, be for helping people to learn how to access Wi-Fi," said Philip.

During the workshop Janet Jobson of the DG Murray Trust said research indicates that children in SA can expect to only access five years' worth of learning in their childhood. It is estimated that the cognitive development of 27% of children in SA is stunted at the age of two and 40% of children in the country do not access quality early learning of any kind.

In her view, early childhood development brings the opportunity of job creation in townships.

"It does not need huge job skills. You need the social ability to engage with people - even starting a reading club to read stories to children," she explained. She estimates that up to 100 000 jobs can be created in this way as part of public employment programmes but did admit funding is a challenge.

Grace Matlhape CEO of SmartStart, a franchise programme aimed at creating access to quality early learning for children between 3 and 4 years old in the poorest communities, told delegates that poverty is robbing many children of a good start in life. The SmartStart franchisees receive start-up and ongoing support.

Currently more than 50% of the more than 3 700 SmartStart franchisees are young people.

"To create good, sustainable opportunities we built a delivery mechanism to reach the gap of kids who do not access early learning. We have shown this model can be scalable," she said.  

"It is an opportunity for young people to become early learning professionals. It is not just about looking after children but making sure there is real learning outcomes and school preparedness for the children in their care."

Other potential opportunities for youth unemployment in townships raised during the workshop included coordinating corporate procurement to develop youth to become part of their supply chains and thus driving a new diverse pipeline.

Other suggestions were that government gives any business started by a young person two years of tax exemption and that a venture capital fund for township entrepreneurs is started as part of a public private partnership.

The delegates were furthermore informed of the opportunities that the so-called gig economy can offer unemployed township youth. The gig economy involves short-term "jobs" obtained by independent, freelance workers. The informal market is already a type of gig economy, but it can just be organised better to unlock opportunities, in the view of one of the delegates.

Lastly, during a panel discussion the potential of training and using unemployed youth to gather data in townships was raised.

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