The transition between leaving school and finding a job, is often a longer and more difficult “in-between” period for many young South Africans than many of us realize. By our estimates, 1.5-million young people have been looking for work for more than three years. This is of concern as the longer young people get stuck in this “in-between”, the more discouraged they become until many eventually give up on the very ordinary dream of finding a decent job. We see this in the doubling of the number of discouraged young job-seekers between 2008 and 2017 — from 755,916 to 1,570,755 individuals.
Pretisha , a 26-year-old from Mokopane in Limpopo described the discouraging feeling of spending weeks pursuing opportunities she finds online only to never get any form of response: “ I stop [looking for work] because the lack of response from employers and recruitment agencies is very demotivating. It would be nice if they could at least acknowledge the contact I’ve made so that I know my attempts of reaching people aren’t futile.”
Getting stuck in this “in-between”, can chip away at young people’s optimism and cause them to become discouraged work seekers (these are people who have given up looking for work altogether). Without a sense of hope that they will be successful in finding employment, or that their efforts to pursue education and training will lead to life-changing results they anticipate, their motivation and positive mindset can start to slip away. Mental health support is, therefore, a critical and vital service that should be readily available and accessible for young people at all times, but particularly in this period of extreme vulnerability.
Another frequent stressor young people have while looking for employment, is how difficult it is to ask those close to them for money. As a young adult, it can be uncomfortable to feel like they have to continually ask for financial help from family members who may not have much money themselves. On average, young people spend about R550 a month on job seeking — the majority of which is spent on transport and data costs. This means that in an income-poor household, young people are spending half of their monthly income looking for work.
Lotsotatile , a 19-year-old from Bloemfontein in the Free State, shared the burden he felt trying to fund his job search, “I have to take a taxi to town. Sometimes I’m low on money. Its R12 to go to town and R12 to come back. So its R24”. The need to always ask for money can often end a young person’s hustle to find work. Sihle* from Phillipi in the Western Cape, who recently started his own business through an entrepreneurial training programme, explains how it feels to have something to look forward to every day and be able to contribute to his family, “At least I’m doing something, I was just sitting down doing nothing now my mindset has changed. I’m waking up in the morning and looking forward to work. Before I had to ask my brother who is working, or my mother [for money] and I really didn’t like that, and now I don’t have to ask. So to have this opportunity in making my own money, I don’t mind having to take out from my own money to now share with my family”
Sihle, Pretisha, and Lotsotatile’s stories give us a small glimpse into how under-resourced young people are in this transition time. Young people need a range of different resources and support to help them overcome the challenges of finding a decent job – a journey that is often a lengthy transition towards employment. Young people shouldn’t have to beat these odds on their own. With some promising strategies in place, now is the time to improve the opportunities for our young people – so they don’t spend their whole lives stuck in the “in-between”.
* individuals’ names have been changed for anonymity
A opinion piece related to this article originally appeared in the Business Day Live. To read this article and other articles, click here.