Paid internships are the key to solving SA’s youth crisis

South Africa’s youth have a lot to celebrate following the recent state of the nation address and budget speech.

In his maiden state of the nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa repeatedly emphasised that job creation would be at the centre of the 2018 national agenda. Former finance minister Malusi Gigaba confirmed that the government would be contributing R57 billion to fund free higher education.

This comes at a time when more than 55% of South Africans are living in poverty and the unemployment rate, although slightly lower, is sitting at 26.7%.

“Our most grave and most pressing challenge is youth unemployment. It is therefore a matter of great urgency that we draw young people in far greater numbers in productive economic activity,” Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa promised “practical solutions and initiatives that will be implemented immediately” and committed to create a million such internships in the next three years, which would allow unemployed youth the opportunity to work.

The strong focus on job creation and development for the youth in both policy and budgetary respects is a welcome development.

It is promising to see that the new president understands the importance – both individually and on a national economic level – of youth job creation. An increase in youth employment means increased spending power, less dependence on social grants, less motivation to turn to crime and an overall improvement of the socioeconomic environment for all citizens.

One such way the South African government can create employment en masse for the youth is through increased internship funding.

Internships are critical when creating employment opportunities for marginalised youth. The oversupply of labour often makes it difficult for inexperienced youth to get a foot in the door.

With employers often opting for experienced candidates over non-experienced graduates, Lulaway understands internship funding will incentivise companies to take on more graduates as interns, thus being more inclusive of individuals who may otherwise have been ostracised.

Once candidates have a year’s experience under their belt, their employability is significantly improved. Young people, who have participated and completed an internship programme become more confident, capable and driven to improve themselves in the context of work.

Small, medium and micro-sized enterprises in particular stand much to gain when given access to internship funding. The subsidy enables them to overcome the hurdle of growing their organisation’s personnel, allowing the business to grow and offer more youth an employment opportunity.

We are thrilled to see that President Ramaphosa has prioritised youth employment initiatives and has allocated significant funding to actualise this goal. While sustainable change is a process, we work with the youth on a daily basis and experience first-hand the despair and desperation faced by our youth. South African youth are a remarkable generation; they are ambitious, talented, and determined, but they need our support. They are desperate for an opportunity to reach their potential and make a contribution to society.

The allocation of R57 billion for free higher education and training will significantly benefit long-term economic development.

Lulaway can play a crucial role, particularly in the implementation of internships and training.

With our refined model, we have seamlessly connected the intern, the funder, and the employer, removing the administrative and cumbersomeness that characterised internships in the past. It is a privilege to be an active part of this transformation. We will continue to act as a reliable and effective strategic partner to any organisation involved in youth job creation.

Jake Willis is chief executive of Lulaway youth employment agency

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