Unemployment in South Africa: How do we break out of this spiralling problem?

06 Aug 2015








Unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing South Africa. Statistics South Africa’s (StatsSA) quarterly survey put official unemployment at 25% in the second quarter of 2015. This demonstrates a slight and unexpected improvement on the 26.4% recorded in the first quarter but not sufficiently to alleviate very real concerns for the year ahead. Those who have given up finding work are included under the definition of expanded unemployment and that stat sits currently at 34.9%, down slightly from 36.1% in the first quarter.

The 25% mentioned above represents 5.23 million active job seekers without work and the stats this year are the highest since 2003, when unemployment hit 30%. The worst affected section of the population is the youth. The unemployment rate among the youth is more than twice that of adults each year and rose from 32.1% in 2008 to 35.5% in 2015

Whilst we have seen a slight improvement this quarter, the mining sector have just announced imminent and significant job cuts and other sectors are likely to follow suit. South Africa faces many challenges and unemployment remains one of the most critical because it impacts directly on the socio economic circumstances of individuals and communities, as well as on the economy at a macro level.

How can South Africa break out of this spiralling unemployment problem? This issue is rightly receiving a lot of attention and many politicians, economists and academics have expressed diverse opinions on how to resolve this unemployment crises. One suggested approach which I would like to expand upon is to address supply and demand.

On the demand side, South African businesses generally recruit candidates with experience specifically related to the vacancy in question. This often results in a select pool of highly experienced candidates, all in demand across that specific industry. Businesses should rather be encouraged to, and rewarded for, employing and training those who are unskilled, but full of potential and likely to contribute to the organisation in the future. Demand should therefore be expanded from the select and specifically qualified candidates, to a wider population of candidates brimming with unrealised potential.

On the supply side we need to ensure that potential candidates are indeed ready for the workplace. We have to address the fact that whilst more South Africans now have access to education, being at school is clearly not always enough because many scholars are still struggling with basic literacy and numeracy. The disparity across the education system results in some youth exiting with access to Higher Education and jobs, whilst others do not enjoy this same access. To address the issue of supply we need to acknowledge and address the systemic inadequacies within the education system and to ensure that the pool of potential job candidates are sufficiently ready for the workplace. This commitment also needs to extend to Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges and all Higher Education institutions. All must commit to ensure that graduates exit with the skills to ensure work readiness.

The Harambee project is attempting to address some of the issues surrounding supply and demand that prevent the youth from finding employment.

On the demand side Harambee is preparing entrants to the job market. Through this workplace preparation they are producing a pool of work-ready candidates, thereby enabling businesses to recruit inexperienced candidates whilst reducing the risk typically associated with taking this approach. They have also developed a sourcing and screening model based on strengths rather than on formal education and experience, thereby further assisting businesses to effectively source and recruit from the pool of inexperienced candidates.
On the supply side Harambee is seeking to address the failings within our education system by sourcing inexperienced young job seekers who have gaps in their work readiness, but who demonstrate potential and by then putting them through these bridging work readiness programmes. These programmes help them to develop where necessary to ensure workplace competence and Harambee then go on to place these individuals within the workplace.

South Africa faces many challenges, but unemployment has devastating and far reaching consequences. We need to monitor the results of projects like Harambee which could provide success models and lead to strategies to address the unemployment crises facing the South African youth.

Author: Kim Elliott

Editor: Ernst Kriek

Source 1, Source 2 and Source 3

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