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Johan de Meyer
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Dear Mr President, your help is not helping us employ young people

31 July 2018, 16:56

All eyes have been scrutinising your every decision since you took over the presidency of your party and of our government. I am sure it is very hard to keep one's sanity when for every decision taken, there is a myriad of contrary opinions. Still, I would like to express yet another contrary view. 

When it comes to youth employment and education, your help is not helping. Or perhaps I should qualify - the help is not helping the people who need it most. Programmes like the Youth Employment Service only help those who have, to a certain degree, been helped already. It assists the formally educated in the formal economy. But those young people - roughly 50% of all youth - who left school prematurely and mostly search for jobs in the informal sector are left behind. 

Our nation suffers from a deep woundedness. At a deep level, I believe, the pain in communities expressed through protests, violence and xenophobia is related to people's dignity. Many live in circumstances that are, to put it mildly, inhumane. However, the problem is not the circumstances in the first instance.

Human beings feel undignified when they are not allowed to choose the path of their own lives; when they are not allowed to productively and creatively shape their lives and the context in which they live. In short, if I can't put bread on the table after a day of productive labour, I am forced to depend on the goodwill and support from others. Dignity flies out the window.

The problem is that half of our youth is not only unemployed, but unemployable. Under the current circumstances, there is little chance of them ever feeling that they can contribute to the well-being of their own families. Indeed, many opinionistas have written about a future where the frustrations experienced by our youth boil over; when sitting at home and feeling useless to society becomes too much to bear.  

Yes, we urgently need to fix a dilapidated education system, but there are millions of youngsters for whom it is too late. Fixing education will only benefit those still in the system. Here is the crux: Your programmes are helping those who already have at least some access to education and employment.

Yes, they deserve a hand up, but it will not address the growing frustration on the street unless you likewise create processes - not institutions - that can also give a hand up to those who are part of the +- 50% of kids who fall out of school every year. 

I run a social enterprise on the Cape Flats where we upskill, employ and incubate township youth, un-schooled youth in particular. In my experience, the entire economic system pushes the burden of employing unskilled youths right to the bottom. Corporates are given subsidies to employ graduates on learnerships, for example. There is no similar process for SMEs, and yet it is far more likely that un-schooled youth can find a means of income at this level. 

To qualify for SETA support, my business needs to have a curriculum in place to teach un-schooled youth. If no curriculum is available, I must generate it, have it approved, appoint examinators - all at my own cost. This cost is simply unrealistic for an entry-level social enterprise. And even if I do, SETA benefits are not guaranteed. I need to apply, and stand a fair chance not to be approved due to the large number of applications.

I am deeply committed to pay more than a living wage, to get youths to a place where they feel they know their life's purpose and where they are paid according to their worth. But how do we get to that point? There is no mechanism from the point where a youngster is unskilled and unemployed, to one where they are productive enough to earn the minimum wage. A small business, committed to the youth sector, is in a position where we must either have enough cash flow to sponsor a full salary to a person who is still learning how to contribute to a business productively, or we should leave that person at home, frustrated. There is no way to enable the in-between stage.

The solution is not to lower the minimum wage, but to support the SME sector to be able to afford it. This is the best place where un-schooled youths can find entry-level employement; where they can learn skills on the job. This should have been covered at school. But alas... 

The message from the system to small businesses, then, is that we should carry the full weight of the collapse of youth employment, for the good of the cause. We do not qualify for significant amounts of help. The hoops we need to jump through are too numerous, and too high.

If you want your help to truly help, find innovative ways to engage the informal sector and the township economy. Support small businesses through subsidies or grants to employ unskilled and un-schooled youths. Fix the agencies that are supposed to support SMEs. Make help available for the creation of curricula for the upskilling of unskilled or low-skilled South Africans.  - after all, if a child falls out of school at a young age, it is not their fault. It is us - we are failing them. 

There are so many innovative ideas around to address this issue. Just engage with us. Please, do not concentrate the resources at the top. When you do, we at the bottom of the economic pyramid bear the brunt of the other side of the coin. 

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.


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