Youth’s unemployment in South Africa has been put at staggering 66.5% and education and skill acquisition has been viewed by many as a panacea to this menace. According to Global Citizen “The untapped potential that lies within South Africa’s unemployed youth is a national tragedy – and the number of young people who are neither learning nor engaged in income-generating activities is unacceptably high”. Shanda Paine, Tsogo Sun Group’s CSI manager stated in one of her speeches that “South Africa’s youth unemployment is a harsh reality that is impacting the country as a whole, and is a key focus of Tsogo Sun’s national corporate social investment (CSI) programme.” Tsogo Sun invested in various education and skill development schemes to help alleviate the challenges faced by South African youths. Most of the initiatives were borne out of discussions and input from learners, parents, educators, and principals,” said Paine. The effect of lack of skill development on youth unemployment is a global challenge that is not limited to South Africa alone. The link between youth unemployment and lack of education, training and skills development is still shrouded in mystery across the globe as it is difficult to completely understand the link in isolation without considering other influencing factors. While some studies have not been able to identify any link that exist between skills development and youth unemployment, some socio-economic stakeholders are of the opinion that a link exist between lack of skill development and youth unemployment among the populace and that these is dependent on the quality and quantity of jobs available at that moment. Youth unemployment has been a major problem that the ANC-led government had to contend with after the apartheid period in South Africa. Information has shown that in South Africa, youths below the age of 35 which constitute two thirds of all unemployed youths lack training and education. Skill development according to human capital model, is a promoter of economic growth and job creation and by extension can help reduce unemployment among the youths.
According to The Skill Portal, “Education Expert Mary Metcalfe explained that the availability of the scarce skills list allows young people to align their studies to professions that require labour. She however acknowledged that the scarce skills will change over time. She said, “Yes there are skills that you can say this is currently a scarce skill. Let me set about gaining the necessary qualifications and work experience to prepare me for that scarce skill area but what’s considered a scarce skill will change as work opportunities change in the economy”.
Youths with less skill and experience, often encounter difficulties in accessing job opportunities. According to global statistics, the unemployment rate of youth has long exceeded that of other groups reaching a record high value in 2009 with about 75.8 million youths left unemployed. Youth who have decided not to acquire or develop their skill, may be marginalized in the scheme of things and may be a danger to themselves and a problem for society. Many of such youths engaged in social vices that has increased the crime rate in South Africa. According BusinessTech South Africa, three provinces top the list of crimes, Gauteng having the highest number of crimes, with 107,815 cases followed by Western Cape with 72,547 cases, and KwaZulu-Natal with 61,605 cases. All these are products of youth’s unemployment which by extension may be due to lack of skill development.
The missing links between skills development and youth unemployment
Irrelevant skill acquisition: Empirical evidence has suggested that the type of skill acquisition determines the employability of any youth. Sometimes, despite acquiring skills, the job availability that can fit the skill acquired is always a big issue as most youths are still confronted with job instability despite having developed their skills. Only few job opportunities are sometimes available for numerous unemployed youths. This can affect the future livelihood and income prospects of the concerned youths. It is therefore necessary that there should be proper guidance by the government on the type of skills that are needed at every given time. Without engaging in skill development in relevant areas, the link between skills development and youth unemployment will be missing.
Limited training personnel: It is disheartening that in some cases, there are limited number of personnel that are available to train and develop the skills of South African youths. It is now glaring that skill acquisition is very important and relevant to secure job placement. There should be more encouragement that can make more training experts available for the youths. Government is expected to create enabling environment for skill acquisition such that both the trainer and the trainee will be passionate about the task. Training and retraining of concerned personnel is the way to go in order to be relevant in the scheme of things. If limited training personnel persist, the link that is missing between skills development and youth unemployment may never be found.
Funding for skill development training/education: Education is a right for every citizen who are available and willing to be educated. It is true that despite the efforts of the South African government, some youths still find it difficult to key into the government’s efforts to make education and skill acquisition accessible for all. The South African government can implement more policies that can make skill development attractive for her citizens. In some cases where the youths are ready to acquire skills, lack of funding for skill development may be another militating factor on their path. Government and other stakeholders can make the environment favourable for the youths in terms of fund provision and sponsorships. It is expected that if government is able to excel on this mission by providing sufficient funding for skill acquisition and her citizens cooperate with the government on accessibility to education, then, the missing link that exist between education/skills development and youth unemployment may be found.
Lack of interest: For skill development to achieve its purpose, there must be interest by the trainee who are majorly the youths. Without this positive disposition by the youth, the purpose may be defeated. There are various ways by which skill development can be made attractive to the youths who are the major beneficiary. For instance, if the youths are sure of the importance of skill development to the prevailing unemployment rate in the country, they may be inclined to wanting to benefit from it. Another way is to establish the relevance of skill development to the current state of socio-economic realities in the country which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Even in the face of serious pandemic when all employment avenues are shutting down, the youths must be made to recognise the strength of skill development which can give relief in the face of increasing unemployment. If the confidence of most of South African youths are built around skill acquisition, it will give direction towards finding the missing link between skills development and youth unemployment.
In conclusion, skill development and youth unemployment are interwoven and inseparable. There must be proper integration of skill development in the affairs of the state in order to achieve sustainable socio-economic stability for the youth. Where the strength of education stops, skill development pushes farther in solving youth’s unemployment only if the missing links between skills development and youth unemployment identified above can be worked on.
Dr. Olusola Bodede is a researcher. He writes in his personal capacity