Sifiso Skenjana | What's it going to take to get SA's young people working?

Sifiso Skenjana (supplied)
Sifiso Skenjana (supplied)
  • SA's young people continue to face severe challenges – worsening unemployment, inequality and poverty.
  • Two key areas need attention in order to address this.
  • Firstly, as Covid-19 further drives a migration to digital learning, online qualifications must be recognised by qualifications authorities.
  • Secondly, the cost of job seeking cause many young people to become discouraged. Improvements in this area can raise labour market participation.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shone the spotlight back on the challenging environments young South Africans find themselves in, with continuously worsening unemployment, inequality and poverty most prevalent among the youth.

The country has a relatively young population with roughly 64% of its citizens below the age of 35 years (28.8% aged 0-14 years, and 35% aged 15-34), according to Stats SA's Mid-Year Population Estimates 2019. Yet the risk to the continued marginalisation and economic exclusion of young people fails to remain on top of the policy agenda items.

Of the multi-dimensions of the youth challenge, two key areas require attention to ensure that the number of discouraged young labour seekers does not continue to increase at current rates.

Digital qualifications

Covid-19 has accelerated the country's journey towards online-based learning, and we can expect a continuance in the emergence of digital learning.

Notwithstanding the constraints pertaining to the pervasive digital divide, where access to digital skills and the affordability of internet connection remain unevenly distributed, work still needs to be done to ensure that that when some of these digital skills come on board, they are recognised accordingly by the qualifications authorities.

Digital learning approaches have been accelerated and the legislation guiding qualifications frameworks in South Africa, the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Act (2008), ought to become sufficiently agile to accommodate the SAQA accreditation/recognition needs of eLearning programmes to ensure that industry is able to continue skills development sustainably.

As far back as 2005, the NQF impact study by Ronel Blom and James Keevy, The impact of the implementation of the National Qualifications Framework on education and training in South Africa, found that the extent to which qualifications address the education and training needs of learners and South African society was minimal, largely as a result of lack of portability of qualifications, lack of effectiveness of qualifications design, low qualifications uptake and achievement and lack of integrative approach in qualifications design.

It is critical therefore that the NQF framework addresses these shortfalls more urgently as the economy faces intensifying digital integration.

This proposed NQF review also ought to incorporate the sector education and training authorities (SETAs) as they continue to play an important role in ensuring improved youth outcomes through their funded learnerships, funded skills programmes and funded apprenticeships.

The cost of job seeking

There is sufficient evidence to show that young people discontinue job searching largely because of costs associated with the search process, with 3.5 million young people (34%) not in employment, education or training (NEET) and discouraged workers now amounting to 2.9 million, as per the first quarter Quarterly Labour Force Survey 2020.

Mame-Fatou Diagne (2010) found that "policies that reduce search costs (through information provision) or alleviate credit constraints (for example, social grants) can raise labour market participation and search intensity".

Lauren Graham et al (2019), in their report Siyakha Youth Assets Study – Developing Youth Assets for Employability, found that the monthly cost of job seeking for unemployed youth was an average R280 for transport and R325 for other costs including data and printing costs funded largely (47%) by loans from household members.

What happens when household incomes come under more pressure? How does this translate to active job seeking by young people? Stats SA reports that of those who were unemployed between Q1 2010 and Q1 2020, the proportion of long term unemployed has increased from 64% in 2010, to 71.7% in 2020, pointing to a growing number of discouraged and structurally excluded employment seekers.

It is time for the government to consider the establishment of a central database that allows organisations to search for candidates and see which qualifications they have digitally.

There are many job seeking candidates who have been excluded from the selection process due to their inability to produce copies of their qualifications. A reprint request for a matric certificate can cost as much R380 without delivery.

Many SETAs have also failed to produce the certificates of the candidates who have gone through their training programmes and therefore make it onerous for applicants to provide proof of competence.

Not only would this centralised database ensure that there is a fast and cost-effective way of accessing one's qualifications, but it would also serve as a deterrent for employment candidates who have the temptation to forge or produce fake qualifications.

The latest Stats SA unemployment numbers report youth unemployment to be more than 70% by the extended definition of unemployment. The youth challenge is a massive elephant that we have to bite our way through, one small chunk at a time.

But it does require that all interventions be sufficiently textured to each of the dimensions of the youth challenge to ensure appropriateness and effectiveness.

 Sifiso Skenjana is the Chief Economist at IQbusiness. Follow him on Twitter: @sifiso_skenjana

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