LeadUP: UP alumni and scholars discuss how youth, business and government can turn tide on youth employment

Posted on June 16, 2021

A recent online discussion hosted by the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Alumni Relations Office focused on the subject of youth employment, and what young people, business and government can do to address the disquieting rate of unemployment among youth in South Africa. Part of the LeadUP: Alumni Thought Leadership series of virtual talks, the panel featured alumni, students and other experts.

Statistics South Africa recently released the latest unemployment figures, which indicate an increase in unemployment of 32.6% in the first quarter of this year. Unemployment among youth has reached 72% and African black women remain the single most vulnerable group, with an unemployment rate of 38,3% among them.

In his opening remarks, UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said that unemployment is a pandemic in its own right. “At UP, we are trying, under uncertain disrupted conditions, to offer quality education and to create impactful, transformative knowledge that can contribute to solving local and global issues at every level of our society. Unemployment and youth employment should be seen in the context of reimagining universities that have answers, and societies that are truly democratic and equal, that enjoy social justice and where there is harmony between humanity and nature.”

“We need to focus on building different strategies and policies that focus on youth,” said Nokuthula Nyamweda, Youth Entrepreneurship and SMME Development Officer at the United Nations Development Programme. “It is also imperative to foster an entrepreneurial mindset among young people, perhaps as early as high school, and instil the mindset that they don’t have to look for a job but that they can create jobs and employ people.”

Thabo Shingange, National Spokesperson of the South African Union of Students, approached the conversation from a student’s perspective, saying another cause of the high rate of youth unemployment among graduates is the issue of work experience when applying for jobs. “It cannot be that someone studies up to a PhD level and still cannot apply for a particular job due to [lack of] experience; sadly, many jobs in the private sector require a lot of work experience, which disadvantages new graduates. [There are also] issues around corruption in South Africa – funds that are supposed to boost youth development are being stolen.”

Lerato Ndlovu, President of UP’s Student Representative Council, moderated the panel, and asked panellists what businesses can do to support the eradication of unemployment among youth. “Businesses need to start informing learners and students better so they understand the job market and demand,” said Lesedi Metsoamere, Head: Affluent Integration at Standard Bank. “That will help them in terms of the qualifications that they are looking to pursue at universities. Entrepreneurship is another initiative that businesses and government can better partner in fighting unemployment.”

Echoing her sentiment, Mishkah Abdool-Sattar, legal executive at the Kit Kat Group, said government and corporate South Africa should work together to bridge the unemployment gap. Government can start with initiating tax incentives and corporate social initiatives, and decrease corporate tax for companies that have a 30% youth make-up. “Also, without access to higher education, we are heading for serious problems in future,” she said. “We need to identify the gap and work around it. Otherwise, we will experience a bigger gap.” 

“We cannot place this issue on one specific group or individual to take blame or responsibility,” added Ramasar Rudhir, a career consultant at Investec. “This is everyone’s problem. It is important to have partnerships among all stakeholders, including government.”

Click HERE to watch the full discussion.

- Author Xolani Mathibela

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