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At the end of October, Youth Capital launched its second annual publication, Unlock Jobs: Clearing Roadblocks to Youth Employment, with a live discussion co-hosted by the Mail & Guardian. Facilitated by activist and broadcaster Khaya Sithole, the panel included Kristal Duncan-Williams (Youth Capital), Waseem Carrim (National Youth Development Agency), Leanne Viviers (Mintor) and Kiru Truman (Researcher).

In this post, we answer the questions that were asked during the live discussion.

On the extent of the crisis.

Paul Romer said last year, “If you can’t solve the problem of getting the majority of young people into work, it may not matter what other problems you solve.” Hollard has a valuable long-term perspective of the need to address youth unemployment; recognising if nothing is done today, then in the future, there won’t be a consumer base for their products.

It’s critical that we prioritise youth unemployment and come together to tackle it with a common vision, with young people at the centre. In 2020, Youth Capital launched the Action Plan, co-created with young South Africans. Grounded in both young people’s experience of youth unemployment and the evidence and research available, the Action Plan prioritises ten systemic challenges that need to be addressed to ensure that young South Africans have the skills, opportunities, and support to get their first decent job. In our current context, the Action Plan provides a shared map to tackle youth unemployment across the sector. If you’re ready to strengthen your efforts, and become #PartOfTheAction by collaborating with Youth Capital on the Action Plan, fill out this form here.

On the need for collective action.

Who do you all think would be the best people in power to #UnlockJobs.”

The issue of youth unemployment is rooted in systemic challenges; and tackling these challenges requires collective action. At Youth Capital, we believe that this collective action should focus on both supply and demand – to not only unlock work opportunities but also to ensure that young people are capacitated to access and hold onto opportunities. Young people’s stories of unemployment are not attributable to a singular experience. Rather, young people face a variety of challenges along their life journey.

This is why tackling youth unemployment requires collective action – the government building an economic climate that is conducive to job creation, the private sector creating jobs, educational institutions and youth development organisations providing young people with the skills, resources, and holistic support that enable them to access the jobs that are created, and young people sharing their experiences and potential solutions.

You can join Youth Capital by signing on the Action Plan.

On discussing the issue vs. tackling it.

What impact do you think these kinds of talk shops, online discussions, panels, etc. have for unlocking solutions? For example, the Jobs Summit likely cost a few million rands to host a three-day conference that had very limited access. That money could have been put into organisations that are doing actual impactful work on the ground that are actually shifting things in the lives of young people. What’s the point and is the cost worth it?

We agree that talk shops, online discussions, panels, etc. alone will not bring about change. Even though numerous such events have been held, the number of young people who are not in employment, education, or training has been increasing persistently. A better investment of resources would be meaningful and ongoing consultations and collaboration with youth organisations, who are tackling the roadblocks that young people face. These engagements have the power to surface young people’s lived experiences and insights as well as solutions that are working on the ground, which can inform the design and the rollout of large scale initiatives.

On the role of smaller organisations.

Is enough being done to acknowledge the aggregated positive impact of small organisations that are doing the work to empower young people to better engage with employment and other opportunities? I feel there is often a focus on large well-funded public-private companies at 50k-60k youth. But what work is being done to aggregate what is being done by other smaller organisations?

This is definitely a gap. By bringing together various role players around the issues mapped in the Action Plan, we’re hoping to aggregate learnings around the ten Calls to Action. This will shine a light on actionable solutions that have already proven to be effective and can be scaled for a larger impact.

By joining the Action Plan network, organisations (regardless of size) and individuals can work with Youth Capital in advocating for systemic change. Youth Capital is also part of the YD Collab, which is working to create a collaborative platform for all youth development organisations in South Africa.

Too much emphasis on big organisations whilst the smaller organisations often have greater impact, but they have a tough time securing resources/funding and recognition for their work as their numbers or geographic reach is too small. The smaller ones often innovate and adapt their interventions quicker for increased effectiveness. Smaller organisations should start thinking smarter about collaborations and strategic partnerships.

We couldn’t agree more! This is why for Unlock Jobs, we spoke to a variety of organisations and individuals to develop a clear understanding of roadblocks, as well as existing and potential solutions. The Zanokhayo Network, for example, launched a CV bot to ensure that their group of young people could update their CVs without having to incur extra data costs. If you are interested in collaborations, please check out the YD Co-lab. 

On public employment and meaningful work experience.

What are the important levers we need to consider strengthening to better ensure that young people can transition from a 4-6 month-long employment opportunity into something more sustainable? And should we not be looking at extending these public employment stimulus programmes to at least 1 year, to allow for deeper learning and skills development to set youth up for success?

Earlier this year, Youth Capital ran an online survey, in partnership with Youth@worK and ORT SA CAPE, with young people who participated in phase one of the Basic Education Employment Initiative (you can read the report here). The surveys surfaced three tweaks that could amplify the programme’s return on investment, namely:

  • Focus on training and mentorship.
  • Extend the contract period and have exit pathways in place.
  • Involve the placement schools in candidate selection.

Incorporating these insights into public employment programmes more deliberately would go a long way to helping young people transition from short-term public opportunities to more sustainable opportunities and kickstart earning. 

Read More: Four lessons from youth work initiative.

We need to build broad agreement on a set of core competencies that formative work experiences need to build into their programmes that young people can reasonably achieve and build upon as they go.

We couldn’t agree more! To do so, it’s important to create shared learnings among organisations that work to provide young people with structured work experience. 


“Is it enough to solve for youth who are currently not in employment, education, or training (NEET)? Are we not also better served by also looking at how people are entering into NEET status, in terms of youth who leave school entering the ranks of the unemployed? What impact does the narrative of high unemployment have in further discouraging young people?

Since young people are a heterogeneous group, there are different reasons that push young people into becoming disengaged with employment, education, and training systems. These reasons should be prioritised as urgent issues to tackle. It’s critical that we leverage technology and a potential tracking system to provide a more insightful picture of young people’s journey. SAYouth, for example, offers a tremendous opportunity to track young people and assess if the solutions we put in place are effective.

Read More: How SAYouth is making job-seeking affordable.

The ever-increasing youth unemployment rate is definitely discouraging. However, in our engagements with young people, we have seen their will and determination to advocate for solutions, to make sure that their voices and experiences are part of the conversation. No individual solution is capable of solving youth unemployment on its own. There is power in combining initiatives, resources, and experiences to ensure that we advocate for systemic change, interventions that can be scaled, and that young people are meaningfully part of these conversations.

In this context, the Action Plan provides a clear map that identifies priorities, and provides room to partner and advocate for solutions to the different roadblocks that young people face in their journey. We know that most young people who exit the schooling system without completing matric will struggle to find decent jobs. And only 1% of those who leave school without a matric certificate hold a non-school certificate or diploma, because most places in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges go to people who already have a matric certificate. If we want to unlock jobs, we need to ensure that young people are supported to complete their matric qualification (most young people not in employment, education, or training do not have a matric certificate); and that we strengthen relationships between industry and TVET colleges to ensure that we train young people for the skills the market needs.

ON TVET and Certification.

“Kiru keeps referring to challenges in the TVET sector without specifying them. Not everyone knows what they are.” 

Please check the Workplace-Based Learning (WBL) section in Unlock Jobs , where we include roadblocks and solutions to ensure that TVET students are supported in completing the practical component of their qualification.

Read More: Youth Capital outlines actionable shifts that can Unlock Jobs.

The promotion of alternative pathways to certification would create a shift “in the queue” of unemployed youth but it doesn’t necessarily lower unemployment.

Absolutely.  Big economic shifts are needed to create jobs. However, young people are currently missing opportunities, because they are not able to signal the skills they do have. So this certification question is one piece of the puzzle.

ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP and side hustles.

“Almost half of working people have some sort of “side hustle” to supplement their income (2021 Old Mutual Savings and Investment Monitor report). Full-time jobs are becoming less secure as companies automate, outsource, downscale, etc. We need to encourage and equip our youth to innovate and find alternatives to full-time jobs – i.e. teach them how to start their own “side-hustles”, small businesses, etc. through basic entrepreneurship training, mentorship, support, etc.

These side hustles are becoming increasingly important in the context of our economy. That being said, we should not view entrepreneurship/self-employment as the silver bullet for the youth unemployment crisis. Entrepreneurship is often discussed as an easy route for young people to create their own jobs. The reality is that it is difficult to succeed in entrepreneurial ventures. Thus, it is critically important that the government and private sector address the systemic challenges that young people face when trying to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves.

Some of the Calls to Action in the Action Plan point out challenges that apply to young people and young entrepreneurs alike: #GrowOurCircles recognises the value of social capital in opening new doors; #AllExperienceMustMatter highlights that we need different criteria to recognise the experience that young people acquire in the informal and social economy; and #SupportUs emphasises the importance of psycho-social support. These Calls to Action highlight that young entrepreneurs need more than just capital to establish successful businesses. They need mental health support, connections to social networks, mentorship from experienced business owners, and a recognition of their self-employment experiences (even if those enterprises have failed) from potential employers.

Creating sustainable businesses, led by resilient entrepreneurs is an ongoing contribution that Business incubators can make. Yes, it is not a silver bullet. But well-run incubators, who are supported in the medium- to long-term, can take a big bite out of the challenge of unemployment.

Business incubators can definitely provide essential support to ensure that young entrepreneurs can create a sustainable livelihood for themselves and others. In this context, TVET colleges are best placed to have incubators, to ensure that students have the technical skills as well as the entrepreneurial know-how to start flourishing businesses. 

On Mental Health and holistic support.

“How do we begin to take the psycho-social effects of multi-dimensional poverty on young people? How do we start to talk and address mental health?”

Mental health is a critical aspect. The Call to Action #SupportUs highlights the importance of psycho-social support. The Basic Package of Support is one such programme that aims to provide young people (aged 15 to 24) who are Not in Employment, Education, or Training (NEET) with support to increase their life chances, by proactively offering them a well-targeted, holistic package of support that:

  • helps them understand available pathways (back) into education, training, and work;
  • empowers them through referral to existing support services to connect to, take up, and complete such pathways;
  • connects them to employment, education, and training opportunities; and
  • keeps them connected to an opportunity over time through re-engagement when necessary.

The programme is being piloted at the moment. 

Do you have any other questions about Unlock Jobs? Get in touch

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