Compulsory Youth Service for Unemployed Youth

2015-10-06 05:32

According to the most recent data from Statistics South Africa, there are approximately 19.5 million youth between the ages of 15 and 34 in the country. Those who are considered economically active are approximately 9.3 million and those who are not considered to be economically active account for approximately 10.2 million. There are 6.1 million young South Africans between the ages of 15 and 34 who are employed and 3.2 million who are unemployed. The number of economically active youth who are unemployed is staggering and quite frankly unacceptable. There are simply too many working age productive young South Africans who are unable to be absorbed into the labour market. This presents a significant threat to the political stability and economic development of our country.

One way of transforming the current situation is through a state-led compulsory national youth service. National Youth Service can be used as a vehicle to absorb, train and skill the country’s youth while at the same time providing valuable experience and life skills. By making national youth service compulsory for unemployed youth the country can stand to benefit from a more skilled, active and patriotic youth population. At the same time national youth service can transform idle minds into productive minds as millions of young people undergo community service in the field of their choice.

Promoting youth service as a strategy for youth and national development offers a meaningful and sustainable way of addressing the challenge of youth unemployment. While there is no silver bullet to address the challenge of youth unemployment, it is important to consider effective weapons of mass development such as youth service. Many countries have made use of national youth service programmes to build decent houses, fight HIV/AIDS and improve literacy. Youth service programmes provide an opportunity for youth to address what they deem wrong in their communities whilst gaining valuable skills, assuming responsibility, learning work ethic and interpersonal skills.

Both developing and developed countries around the world call upon their young men and women to serve their community when they come of age. In Germany, young people are expected to serve the elderly, whereas in Denmark it could mean aiding in disaster relief. The range of youth service programmes can span from formal service through structured programmes in exchange for minimal or no monetary compensation to informal service which is often the result of an ethic of service to others. Fundamentally youth service is about ensuring that young people are at the forefront of promoting development in their communities.

Mainstreaming youth service is critical to the country’s development agenda and therefore every government department should develop and implement a national youth service programme. The NYDA currently implements the ‘YouthBuild’ Youth Service programme in partnership with the Department of Human Settlements which allows young volunteers to be involved in building and maintaining community amenities and RDP houses. These volunteers are involved in an infrastructure development project for a period of one year and then receive certified training in brick laying, carpentry and electrical work. Many youth exit this programme and gain employment as artisans while others start their own businesses. It is therefore imperative that other government departments start considering similar youth service programmes for youth to participate in different aspects of development.

A compulsory national youth service may offer many returns to the individual, the community and society as a whole. One of the most important advantages is the value it provides to the participant in the form of valuable experience, knowledge and skills that will facilitate the transition into paid employment. In this way being part of a youth service programme can improve a young person’s ability to successfully make the transition from school to work. Whether acquiring skills through on-the-job training that will serve them in their future careers, or simply adapting to a workplace environment, service can help young people be absorbed into the open labour market. Thus youth service programmes not only enhance youth employment probabilities but contributes significantly to the overall employability of youth.

Youth service also provides constructive alternatives to risky behaviour and can provide a means for re-integrating out of school and unemployed youth. These youth groups are at a much greater risk of behaviour that is harmful to themselves and their communities. A sense of hopelessness from being out of school or out of work leads many young people into a life of crime, social unrest or alcohol and drug abuse. Youth service programmes provide a structured environment into which to learn and work while reducing the space and time to think about risky behaviour.

Participating in youth service programmes empowers young people to become active citizens in addressing a wide range of community needs. Many young people are actively involved in cleaning up their communities, tutoring and mentorship or particular forms of social work. This helps in positioning young people as active agents for community development as opposed to passive recipients or being part of the problem. Youth service programmes can also serve as a cost-effective tool for addressing a wide range of development priorities. With limited budgets and staff, youth service programmes can be used to mobilize and organize young people to build infrastructure, fight HIV/AIDS, improve literacy rates and facilitate green economy interventions for protecting the environment. While at a societal level the mainstreaming of youth service can reduce the economic and social cost of risky behaviour and build the necessary social capital required for nation building.

The levels of youth unemployment in the country have reached boiling point requiring a large scale intervention that brings about immediate relief. One possible intervention could be the introduction of compulsory youth service for unemployed youth between the ages of 18 and 24. In this way youth service becomes an antidote to youth unemployment and a catalyst for more meaningful youth development.

Mr. Yershen Pillay

Executive Chairperson of the NYDA

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