When I was a young boy, I wanted to be like Mama Brenda Fassie, bringing the nation together and to be celebrated for doing something good for the country. But as years went by, I questioned how able I was to change the trajectory for myself, my family and young people around me. With 1 in 2 young people unemployed, my story is unfortunately not unique.
Growing up in Khayelitsha, I shared a two-room shack with my mother, two siblings and three cousins. My mother was the only provider for the family, working as a domestic worker two days a week, and selling fat cakes by the train station for the rest of the week. We often went to school without breakfast; and we had to ask the school kitchen for leftovers, to have some dinner.
While finishing my school years, and looking for employment, I didn’t have a support structure that could provide me with knowledgeable advice. The majority of young South Africans live in homes where no adult is employed, so deciding on our future often feels like performing in front of a packed audience, without any prior rehearsal. I considered myself lucky enough to study after high school; but when I completed my first tertiary qualification (a National Diploma in Biotechnology), and the in-service internship at a start-up pharmaceutical company, I realised that was stuck in ‘revolving doors’; like in a labyrinth, we get in and out of education and employment opportunities that don’t build on each other, but lead nowhere, slowly; this makes us lose valuable time to start gaining relevant work experience. As a result, we end up swinging between the extremes of either being under or overqualified for available positions.
To increase my chance of finding employment I went back to university and graduated in Project Management in 2019. But it started to get even harder to get into the market, because I was overqualified. Once, I remember bursting out in tears; being unable to support myself or my family is a heavy burden to carry. When COVID-19 hit, my mom lost her permanent employment. I had high hopes about joining the South African Police Services, but the process was put on hold. I started wondering if I would ever find a job.
In 2020, I joined the Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI) as an Education Assistant. A programme designed for young unemployed people following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the BEEI is coordinated by the department of basic education (dbe); since 2020 the programme has placed
Public programmes: focusing on employability is critical.
Based at Andile Primary School, in New Crossroad for four months, I worked closely with the administration team and school management. I was fortunate to receive some training in administrative systems; I was tasked with filing, inventory and stocktaking, report writing, and I acquired skills that I can leverage for future opportunities. However, I have met many other Education Assistants whose experience of the programme was nothing more than a ‘revolving door’; they didn’t get the chance to upskill, and once the programme was over, they were back at home, not in a better position than a couple of months before. According to a report by youth-led advocacy campaign Youth Capital, for the BEEI to be impactful on young people’s economic journey, it needs to equip young people with relevant and transferrable skills, provide work mentorship, and support young people with an exit strategy.
While I now work as a part-time school tutor, my situation is still precarious; even though I love the education sector, my dream would still be to work in biotechnology. But I am 28 years old, and I am not getting any younger; I am concerned about what the future will look like.
For many young people like me, public employment programmes can provide a structured work experience, and a foot in the labour market. But to be beneficial, these programmes need to acknowledge and address the systemic roadblocks the majority of young South Africans face, such as the difficulty acquiring skills through the education route; the challenge in accessing employment opportunities; and the lack of a professional support system that can direct learnings and next steps. Otherwise, they are just another ‘revolving door’.
Imagine how many young South Africans also had the ambition to be like Mama Brenda Fassie, for themselves, their families, and their country. Now imagine what it would be like to live in a country that supports young people to be all that they want to be, to break out of the labyrinth and change not only their trajectory, but that of an entire generation.
This opinion piece appeared in the Mail & Guardian on 29 April 2022. To read the original article, click here.