New research unpacks the realities of youth unemployment in South Africa and points the way to a solution. New ways to boost work-seeking tactics must be explored to help young people find work or the unemployment crisis will worsen say researchers.

South Africa has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment in the world, with more than three million, or half of the number of young black South Africans aged between 15 and 24, out of work. It is a structural reality that masks a very personal anguish.

“When I tell my brother to go back to school,” confesses Unathi, 24, “he says, ‘What has school done for you?’ It’s like I’ve done something wrong with my life."

Unathi’s is a sobering, but all too representative, reality reflected in a recent Consumer Insight Agency (CIA) report compiled for Live magazine. The study explored why young matriculates felt that they had failed – and been failed by their education, their family, and by the state – in repeated but thwarted attempts to find and secure the ‘dream’ of lasting employment.

Using the CIA’s hallmark qualitative, video-based interview techniques, researchers spoke to South African youth across the country to find out what they are thinking and how they would like to see the situation change.

What they heard was that school-leavers believe that further education, work experience and skills-development are key factors in gaining employment. And that when these are not forthcoming, often because of financial constraints, many job seekers settle into an inertia of the most remarkable complacency.

Perhaps most disconcerting, the research showed that the current strategies employed by young people to help improve their prospects for job-readiness remain limited to circulating CVs to prospective employers identified in community newspapers or, if they have computer skills, ready access and money, the Internet.

“It is a strategy that most school-leavers acknowledge will not work. Yet aside from door-to-door canvassing and ‘networking’ amongst friends and family, it’s the only strategy they know,” says CIA Director, Craig Irving.

Finding ways to boost work-seeking tactics therefore should become a priority for policy makers and NGOs working in this sphere, says Irving.

The CIA’s report recommends opportunities for mentorship, skills development, volunteer and learnership programmes to help intervene in and contribute towards young people’s job-readiness.

“Young, school-leaving matriculants need to know – and need their parents to understand – that these free programmes are useful. While they may not immediately earn an income, they will lead to better prospects,” urges Irving.

“If nothing else, these programmes will help young people meet with mentors and share in creative, entrepreneurial opportunities that will help nurture their dreams, build self-belief and add to self-worth.”

One such intervention programme that has proven to be successful in the UK is Live magazine, which was launched in South Africa late last year.

Live commissioned the CIA research and the dynamics of the magazine in South Africa, and the focus of its content, have in part, been inspired by the results.

Gavin Weale who is a Shuttleworth Fellow and runs the magazine explains that Live is about “delivering social benefit for contributors and readers”. It offers short-term internship to young graduates and unemployed youth thereby helping them gain crucial work experience and employability skills. But it also measures its social impact via how the content influences and helps its readers.

“We have talked a lot about how our magazine can influence, inform and inspire readers, as well as interns, in their own quest for a brighter future,” says Weale.

Nicola Daniels can attest to this. She writes a teen column for a local newspaper and also works as the Live magazine’s editor. She says that she has gained on-the-job leadership skills while the experience “takes you out of a comfort zone”.

“It counts as valid experience on my CV and my skills have increased,” she adds. Daniels explains that young people who are “stuck in the ghetto their whole life” face “role models around them who haven’t really made much of their lives. So you lose that sense of urgency or hope for a better tomorrow because living off grants or working in a factory is all you know. Then kids who go on to study have a problem because all jobs require experience,” she says.

“Working on Live magazine pushes you to continue looking out for bigger and better opportunities.”

The CIA research has influenced various aspects of how the magazine is taking shape in South Africa including the fact that the headquarters are not in one of the low-income areas where its participants are drawn from.

“The psychological difference that it can make for a person to have somewhere to go to every day and ‘escape their reality’ is really useful,” says Irving.

So far, the magazine seems to have inspired its young interns who have been working on the first edition. One such intern, Sivuyile Mntuyedwa, says that more companies should offer internships to young people who seek jobs.

“It’s sad that the youth are told to go school in order for them to have a better chance at being something, but when they’ve finished their studies they struggle to get proper employment. It’s frustrating,” he says.

Irving says the early success of the magazine will hopefully encourage more South African organisations to step up and start similar initiatives.

“Together I believe we can shift the mindset of the youth from believing that the government will provide for them; to taking responsibility and understanding how they have to make it work for themselves. The roll-out of Live South Africa suggests they are hungry and ready for the opportunity to do so.”

For more information contact Natasha Arendorf on 021 448 5941.



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