OPINION | SA’s jobless youth caught between a rock and a hard place

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I am often inundated by feedback appraisals from my former students.

These habitually take the form of platitudes of gratitude that then transcend into a crescendo of misgivings.

A common feature of these youths, most of them being graduates, is they are unemployed.

Further, these youths face a societal burden manifest in high economic expectations.

Then there is the challenge of meandering through this uncertain, and at best difficult, labour market system.

All this happening in a period of challenge posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and the noted rise of unemployment to 32.6% between January and March 2021.

The charge for the youth of today is often drawn in comparative narratives of stark parallels with their 1976 counterparts.

In one corner, the call is for an attitude of refusing the status quo of just fitting in.

Youths must opt for a more cavalier fighting spirit.

A failure to adopt such a fighting spirit relegates today’s youth to another corner. One where they are classified to be impressionably weak, entitled and battled.

This leaves our youths caught between a rock and a hard place. The comparisons with the past not helping the situation but perpetually creating a dissonance and entrapment in a vortex of time.

So in the last five years we have tracked youths who have exited the higher education system to see how they are faring. The experiences mixed, the battle cries common.

The first of these experiences attributes blame to the political elite.

Often nebulous affirmations are made for the need to absorb young people in sectors where they are underrepresented. These include the marine, ocean and agricultural economies.

Yet the red tape accompanying this process deters young people.

Coupled with this, are high barriers of entry making it difficult for youths to participate in such spaces.

Where young people become absorbed into the labour market system, there is the added challenge of exploitation.

Graduates have written to us complaining at the exploitation faced in so-called internship opportunities, a masquerade in the name of skilling. This coupled by the perceived disparities and allocation of opportunities by geographical location and even the type of institution attended.

One that hits home for me is graduates complaining at the disconnect between what they have been taught and the actual needs of the labour market system.

Varied are the complaints here but there are two common features.

The first, a lack of preparedness by graduates to the expectations of the labour market system.

Second, a lack of relevance in terms of key subject offerings as part of tertiary enrolment. Included here is the lack of entrepreneurial training.

Where this training is provided, students complain of the obsession with theory — making students become experts at listing the steps of starting a business with little or no knowledge of the practical side of this.

So what can be done?

The youth of today at best can draw inspiration from the youth of 1976 to find meaning and expression of writing their own narrative.

The first work to be done appears more psychological than operational.

This is a work of affirming our youths as unique, distinct and important players in solving the obstinate challenges we have,while they are able to borrow from the lesson book of history using the class of 1976 as a launch pad to their own greatness.

Second is the work of advocacy through more streamlining and rigorous monitoring and evaluation of interventions aimed at helping the youth.

This includes calling to account through a multilayered stakeholder vigilance of the work of agencies, spheres of government and representative bodies claiming to be in it for the youth.

Key to this is the continued synergy between the private sector and government.

This work cannot be done alone.

Efforts of skills-building and entrepreneurial development, especially at grass roots level, call for such collaboration.

This is the experience of one of my former students, partnering as a supplier to a private company and in turn receiving much needed entrepreneurial experience.

Globally, there is also acknowledgment of the importance of private sector involvement and collaboration for realised success.

There is also the need for a total overhaul of the education system, bearing in mind contextual challenges.

The creation and activities of the Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education platform and recent calls for our universities to become entrepreneurial hubs is a step in the right direction.

This is something that should be extended to the TVET sector and even at the Basic Education level.

We do not need another June 16, 1976, event to remind us what the youth can do!


Willie Tafadzwa Chinyamurindi is a Professor and Head of the Business Management Department at the University of Fort Hare. Together with Dr Tinashe Harry (Rhodes University) have authored three papers detailing Labour Market & Human Capital issues with a focus on youths in South Africa. These papers have been published and are available online through: a) South African Journal of Human Resources; b) African Journal of Employee Relations and c) South African Journal of Industrial Psychology.


Source: OPINION | SA’s jobless youth caught between a rock and a hard place (dispatchlive.co.za)