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Why are so many of South Africa’s youth unemployed?

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The reasons for the high level of youth unemployment have been discussed ad nausea, and, of course, the downgrade of South Africa’s sovereign credit rating by the three most important ratings agencies, Moody’s, Fitch and S&P, come into play, as does the country’s nosedive towards a full-blown recession.

There is, however, an additional reason why so many youngsters sit at home, frustrated and at the end of their wits. Older South Africans grew up in a world where they and their parents worked for huge parastatals like the railways, Iscor and Armscor.

It was quite normal for employees to stay at one company for 35, 40 years or even longer, while taking advantage of great medical aid and pension benefits. After the worldwide recession in 2008, the picture changed considerably.

Young people no longer found permanent employment as a matter of fact, and the benefits were greatly reduced. In South Africa the situation is no better, and even worse than elsewhere. Some figures peg youth unemployment for jobseekers between 18 and 24 years old at as high as 48%. This means almost one out of two is unemployed.

In reality there is a surplus of entrylevel jobs at any given time, but there are not enough strategic resources dedicated to ensuring job longevity, according to research done by entry-level employment recruiters Lulaway.

The research shows that younger employees have the poorest job longevity, and as they have minimal financial responsibilities, they lack the resilience to push through the initial challenges of entry-level employment, which tends to be menial and physically gruelling and offers little return.

They complete their tertiary studies with the expectation of a well-paid job and don’t understand that you must start at the bottom and work your way up. Hard work and talent are quickly noticed, but you need that work experience, no matter how menial and low-paying the job is initially.

In the short term, young people don’t see the benefit of working so hard for so little money. They don’t see the necessity of work experience in creating long-term success. As a result they tend to resign too soon to look for something “better”.

Certain initiatives have been rolled out to mentor young people in entry-level employment and to encourage them to persist. To ensure employment in the future, say over the next decade, school leavers must give their chosen careers some serious thought.

The world of work is changing and the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution has already started. A quick internet search shows predictions are that by 2020, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will have brought us advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics that will transform the way we live, and the way we work.

Some jobs will disappear, others will grow and jobs that don’t even exist today will become commonplace. South Africa’s future workforce will need to align its skillset to keep pace with these developments.

Lastly, the overwhelming evidence of the political and related shenanigans of Pres. Jacob Zuma and his cronies show that our leaders are playing political marbles while Rome is burning. Instead of developing policies to create an environment for investment and economic growth that will create jobs, they are embroiled in corrupt activities of state capture and shamelessly defend their actions.

The blame for the poor state of our economy and for rising youth unemployment can therefore also be laid squarely at the feet of poor Government leadership. The youth unemployment question can only be solved when South Africa has a decent leadership corps in place and we, as citizens, learn to work together.

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