As we head towards Youth Day, dedicated to the celebration of youth development and empowerment in South Africa, creative agencies and production companies are getting ready to execute event briefs from various government departments for Youth Day celebrations in honour of young South Africans.
While events that honour and celebrate the sacrifices and accomplishments of the youth of yesteryear are important, we need to ask ourselves whether we are doing enough to advance the future prospects of the youth of today. In the construction industry, at least, we certainly aren’t doing all we can.
Since 2008, the construction sector has contributed about 8% to total formal and informal employment in South Africa and has since been recognised as a critical economic node and catalyst in the creation of employment opportunities for young people in the country.
The South African government has launched campaigns in line with this to highlight the importance of the construction and related sectors. These include the decade of the artisan campaign launched in 2014 by the department of higher education and training as well as several others aimed at encouraging young people to consider Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges as an option for post-matric studies.
But the government seems to be shifting its focus away from the construction sector as it gradually spends less on infrastructure build projects. Despite the recent launch of the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme by President Cyril Ramaphosa, higher education department appears to have slowed down its efforts when it comes to programmes that assist TVET college graduates to get internships and work experience at companies within the construction sector.
Reduced government spend on infrastructure build projects has indeed had an adverse effect on the construction industry, which shrunk by 0.8% in the first quarter of 2017 and by another 0.5% in the following quarter. Be that as it may, the construction industry remains a significant contributor to employment and economic growth, and according to PWC, contributed an average of 3.9% to the country’s GDP in 2017.
Therefore, opportunities still abound in the sector with companies continuously looking to attract young talent to help them reach their growth targets. But where the government, through the Sector Education and Training Authority, holds the key to unlocking these opportunities, it has instead become a gatekeeper, hindering efforts by private organisations to partner with TVET colleges to secure work placement for graduates.
The inefficiency at the various Sector Education and Training Authorities is well-documented, resulting in former minister of higher education and training, Blade Nzimande, announcing in 2015 that the department would take full control of the management of all 21 Sector Education and Training Authorities because of the widespread failure of these authorities to allocate the funds they hold.
Despite this clear admission by the department to the failure of Sector Education and Training Authorities, proposals for learnership programmes that are presented to the higher education department are still channelled through the various authorities, which in most cases is where such proposals are sent to die, and with them the dreams of many of South Africa’s young people.
It is thus high time that difficult decisions are made concerning Sector Education and Training Authorities, and concrete steps taken to ensure that programmes that seek to open job opportunities for young people are treated with the urgency they deserve.
The signs are there. The government can expedite corrective measures as witnessed in the large scale clean up that is currently under way at many of South Africa’s embattled state-owned enterprises.
If President Ramaphosa is going to have any measurable success in steering South Africa towards the path of economic recovery, the issue of youth unemployment and the challenges at the Sector Education and Training Authorities must be higher on the agenda.
Gerald Ndlovu is founder and executive director of Black Suppliers (Pty) Ltd.