‘South Africa’s unprecedented youth unemployment crisis is akin to a pandemic’

Posted on November 07, 2022

Academic, industry and government leaders explored the youth employability climate in South Africa during a recently held seminar at the Future Africa Institute at the University of Pretoria (UP). The seminar, entitled ‘SUCSESS@UP: integrating industry, ingenuity and initiative’, sought to examine how industry-university collaborations can improve graduate employability.

The SUCSESS project is a partnership between six universities; the University of Pretoria, the University of Johannesburg, and the University of Zululand, in South Africa. Internationally, the University of Oulu and Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences in Finland, and Sheffield Hallam University in the United Kingdom. The project is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.

“The solution to South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis is not simple, but requires a lot of integration by many role players, together with creativity, initiative and entrepreneurship,” said Berendien Lubbe, Emeritus Professor, UP Department of Historical and Heritage Studies.

During her keynote address, Wesgro CEO Wrenelle Stander presented the stark picture of South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis, with 34.5% of young people in the country currently not having work.

“At the same time, economic growth is being stifled because of a scarcity of critical skills. Our education system continues to churn out a workforce that is largely unsuited to the economy, perpetuating the major mismatch between labour supply and demand,” she said.

UP officials and partners at the launch of the University's its employability-focused Digital Capability Laboratory at the Hatfield Campus.

Earlier in the day the University of Pretoria (UP) launched its employability-focused Digital Capability Laboratory at the Hatfield Campus as part of the European Union’s (EU) Erasmus+ SUCSESS Project. Front from left to right: Prof Berendien Lubbe (UP, Department of Historical and Heritage Studies), Prof Diane Abrahams (UJ, Director, School of Tourism and Hospitality), Prof Tawana Kupe (UP, Vice-Chancellor and Principal), Prof Jarkko Saarinen (University of Oulu, Finland), Dr Alicia Ali (Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom), Prof Thandi Nzama (UniZulu, Deputy Dean Teaching and Learning, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences) Back from left to right: Jarmo Ritalahti (Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Finland), Eva Holmberg (Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences, Finland), Prof Karen Harris (UP, Head of Department, Department of Historical and Heritage Studies)

Dr Kholadi Tlabela, Director for Research at South Africa’s Department of Tourism, highlighted that tourism was a priority sector for national development.

“While acknowledging that the sector has made advances in growing employment and contributing to GDP (gross domestic product), some goals have fallen short of being realised. There is a lack of collaboration in tourism research, and inadequately skilled graduates are unable to respond to sector needs,” she said.

Barry Vorster, Chief Strategy Officer of consultancy VSLS, spoke to the question of the future of work amidst fourth industrial revolution disruptions, where artificial intelligence (AI) is seen as both a threat and an opportunity for employment.

“Will AI take jobs? Yes, it surely will,” he said, adding that 40-50% of what we do will change.

“Is there something we can do? Yes, there surely is.”

He said due to automation, organisations need workers with wisdom, empathy and heart.

Creativity, problem-solving, digital and technological skills, collaboration, adaptability, flexibility, entrepreneurship, communication, social responsibility and time management are some of the skills identified as important for the future and UP is already implementing these into the curricula, Hannes Engelbrecht, a lecturer in the Department Historical and Heritage Studies, said.

Professor Alex Antonites, Head of Department at UP’s Department of Business Management, introduced the University’s two main channels for improving the employability of graduates. These are the Centre for the Future of Work, a multidisciplinary hub for research and insights into the future of work within an African context, and the University’s work-readiness and entrepreneurship short learning programmes.

Professor Karin Barac, Deputy Dean: Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at UP, said unemployment among South Africa’s youth is everybody’s business.

“As our Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Kupe, mentioned in his welcome address, South Africa’s unprecedented youth unemployment crisis is akin to a pandemic. The solution to it is not simple either, but requires a lot of integration by many role players, together with creativity, initiative and entrepreneurship. Innovative practices driven by good leadership lead to responsible job creation.”

“As educators, we have a responsibility to inculcate lifelong learning possibilities and employability skills, as well as an entrepreneurial mindset… we can contribute to sustainable growth as well as quality employment opportunities for our students, and thereby derive social cohesion and active citizenship,” she said.

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