South Africa is looking to provide pathways for young people into the world of work, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday as he launched the Youth Employment Service (YES) initiative at the Riverside Incubation Hub in Johannesburg.
Among the companies who have come forward to provide work experience opportunities to the first 100 YES participants was Unilever, Sasol, Investec, Absa and Netcare, Ramaphosa said.
“By providing one-year paid work experience opportunities to thousands of unemployed young people, these companies will not only be measurably improving their prospects to find employment, but will be helping to build a more inclusive, more sustainable economy,” he said.
“The YES initiative has been made possible through the hard work and commitment of many people in the private sector, in government, in labour and in other organisations,” he said.
The depth and extent of youth unemployment in this country has widely been accepted to be a “ticking time bomb” as millions of young people do not complete school, and many who do, do not have the skills that the economy needs.
The high rate of poverty in previously disadvantaged communities is one of the key reasons for lack of employment.
Young people’s chances of finding work opportunities are often hindered by lack of access to networks and information about opportunities, as well as exposure to the world of work.
Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that even those young people with further education often “struggle to bridge the gap between learning and earning”.
“We know too about the great distances that separate the places where young people live from the places where they may find work, and the great cost that they must incur simply to look for employment,” he said.
Through the initiative, he said, government was “determined to demonstrate the power of collective action in pursuit of an ambitious and far-reaching agenda”.
“We see this initiative as one pillar of a broad and comprehensive national effort to create opportunities for young people. Another central pillar of this effort must be the development of the skills and capabilities of young people.”
Ramaphosa said government intervention started at the very beginning in early childhood development. “We are working to improve the quality and value of the learning that young people receive in our basic education system,” he said, adding that “we are working to ensure that all learners who enter primary school remain in school to complete their studies”.
He said that “access to higher education and training has expanded dramatically over the last two decades, significantly increasing the number of people in the workforce who hold degrees and diplomas”.
However, “there is much more we need to do to match the skills that are being produced in our institutions with the needs of our economy, both now and into the future”.
Ramaphosa cited as an example that “more effort and more resources into [Technical Vocational Education and Training] colleges, which have the potential to produce on a significant scale the technical skills that will underpin the industrialisation of our economy”.
“By partnering with the private sector, we are seeking to ensure that training in TVET colleges is suited to the requirements of the companies that seek these skills and that TVET college graduates are more easily able to find positions in these companies.”
Another pillar of the national effort to create opportunities for young people must therefore be programmes to promote work readiness, he said. “Understanding the constraints that young black work seekers face, we need effective, sustainable and scalable programmes to prepare these people for first time employment.”
Ramaphosa said employers had concerns about taking on inexperienced young people but “one of the measures that government has introduced to address these concerns is the employment tax incentive, which reduces the cost to employers of hiring young people”.
He praised “public-private partnerships” like Gauteng’s Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator for going even further by preparing young people for work through training and matching programmes.
“The initiative we are launching today complements the work already being done to tackle youth unemployment,” said Ramaphosa.
It provided “a vital ingredient that has been missing – the provision of meaningful work experience for young people on a scale that will have a significant and lasting impact on employment, on the economy and on broader society”, he said.