Wednesday, 30 October 2019: 10h51.
As the whole South African nation hold their breaths in anticipation of the Finance Minister’s mid-term budget speech, it is appropriate to acknowledge a few big gorillas in a very small room called Youth Unemployment.
It will come as no surprise that the Minister will lament the sorry state of unemployment in the country.
- Rising unemployment of young graduates could be high on the agenda, too.
- Billions have been spent on curbing youth unemployment, and we can expect that more money will be thrown at the issue
- Trade unions will insist that automation should be replaced with manual labour but, at the same time, trade unions could be unhappy with the fact that new entrants in the job market threaten the protective layers wrapped about union members in the workplace
- Fingers could be pointed at defective skills development models, and others are likely to argue that universities must do away with fees so that free education is available to all
- Industry is likely to point out that freshly ground graduates are not equipped to make a difference in the workplace unless they are re-skilled, costing more time and money
- The youth will bleat that “there are no opportunities” and that no one is willing to give them a chance
- Last, employers will argue the current labour dispensations make it difficult to get rid of underperformers, thus they are not willing to hire unless labour frameworks allow them to get rid of dead wood with relative ease.
Growth Institute are not labour specialists, nor are we economists. We are educators and we will discuss youth unemployment from the perspective of education and skills development.
Lack of opportunities
Not a single day goes by in South Africa that the youth in all demographics complain that there are no opportunities. Some say they are too white for an opportunity; some say they are not black enough and others say that they are still being discriminated against for many different reasons.
The fact is that the private sector, in compliance with the Skills Development Act, the Labour Relations Act, the Income Tax Act (in terms of learnership credits) and B-BBEE legislation actually creates many opportunities for all the youth to be uplifted.
It is also a fact that many of the youth are unwilling to benefit from Skills Development initiatives because the qualifications associated with these initiatives are not degrees.
Next, some who are offered opportunities where they could get a free education worth thousands of Rands, say that they cannot afford to come to class. Yet, the same persons who state that they cannot afford to come to class may live in a Hyde Park estate or in another suburban and they may have family members working as company executives in Sandton.
We must contrast this attitude with a person who lives in a squatter camp and who makes a plan to find a support system so that he/she can attend a Skills Development Program.
In June 2018, at a Youth Day event, Growth Institute conducted an informal market survey under 18-year olds living in suburbs and in townships and we discovered that 38% of those who claim that they cannot afford tertiary studies actually received pocket money ranging from R 500 to R 3 000 per week. Can the affordability excuse still hold water if a person receives pocket money with an annual value of between R 26 000 and R 156 000, and where the average annual cost of some very good programs is about R 24 000 (including class fees and study material)?
Is it not time to question why those who are clearly financially able to improve themselves, refuse to do so whilst others move heaven and earth to grasp an opportunity, resolving to succeed at all costs?
Attitude is clearly an issue.
Parents who own successful small to medium enterprises are often blissfully aware that current legislative frameworks allow them to place their children on Skills Develop programs without relying on SETA funding. This unawareness should be addressed and parents should be educated on how to make use of structures created by the State so that we can eradicate the country’s skills shortages.
Industry relevance of qualifications
Industry often expresses the view that some qualifications are not relevant to the workplace. It is also pointed out that some qualifications lack certain fundamental skills.
For example, industry find it very difficult to understand how a person with an HR qualification cannot handle payroll matters. Nor can industry understand how a graduate in Labour Relations do not understand skills development or B-BBEE. Third, industry wonders how a degree in Intrapreneurship or Entrepreneurship is actually relevant to the workplace.
Tertiary institutions will argue that it is a Herculean task to design qualifications that could meet all possible permutations needed by industry. Considering that it could take five years or more for a tertiary institution to develop a new qualification, it is understandable that qualifications are slow to adapt to changing market needs.
The other side of the coin is that tertiary institutions need revenue and that some programs (such as an Accounting Degree) in itself do generate sufficient income to sustain the tertiary institution. Therefore, a range of alternative qualifications exist so that revenue targets can be met.
The bigger criticism, however, is that tertiary institutions teach students theoretical models that are not relevant to the workplace. Nor, they say, do tertiary institutions spend enough time to make students workplace ready.
Tertiary institutions will point out that they have a so-called Triple Helix responsibility towards society. Their responsibilities are:
- Primarily to teach,
- Secondarily to do research, and
- Thirdly, to find alternative income streams known as the “Entrepreneurial University”. In South Africa’s context, third income streams typically refer to the development of extra-curricular courses offered to industry as part of work-integrated learning programs, thus creating additional income streams. There is also another dimension to the third income stream, namely to solicit donations from benefactors in the private sector. In addition, many large universities such as MIT, Stanford, Caltech, and others engage with the private sector on a range of research and development projects, where specialist academics do no teach but render R&D services to industry.
South African academics do not have the same liberties as in other countries where specialised teams are responsible for the third income stream activities. Most academics are expected to handle all three streams at the same time. They are so busy with teaching, research and short courses that they do not have time to really develop collaborative research models or custom-built programs that industry wants.
If industry want programs that meet their specialised needs, then industry must find a coopetive way to fund universities for the development of qualifications or programs relevant to industry as a collective. There are cases where South African universities develop specialist training programs for certain sectors (such as the big banks). Our economy, however, is much greater than a few banks who can afford investing in specialised courses.
For industry to get staff with industry-specified qualifications, will mean that industry will have to invest significant amounts of money into universities so that they can get what they want.
Degrees versus vocational programs
South Africans have an unhealthy infatuation for degrees. For years, they have been indoctrinated that a degree is only valid ticket to the job market. Certificates and diplomas, especially those associated with trades or vocations, are considered as inferior. Critics forget that some of these “inferior” qualifications have a higher required pass mark than the more “prestigious” degrees (60% in an external exam versus 50% in an internal exam). Moreover, critics think that trades or vocations are associated with menial, dirty jobs that no one wants. They forget that the majority of jobs listed on the State’s critical scarce skills lists are the exact same trades and vocations that everyone seems to despise.
Rand for Rand, a well-qualified tradesperson has the same earning potential as a well-qualified doctor, lawyer, accountant, actuary, or white-collar executive.
An unwillingness to do a day’s worth on honest work where one risks becoming dirty, is a braking factor in driving down unemployment rates in this country.
Also, many of the youth have completed the theoretical components of N-Programs (N3 through N6) but cannot find employment because they never completed the practical component of that program. This means that a National Qualification cannot be awarded until the practical component is finished. Unfortunately, the practical components, in most cases, must be completed as part of an apprenticeship. Not many are willing to do apprenticeships and not many employers are willing to take in apprentices. There is a perception that apprenticeships are a form of cheap labour associated with the old Apartheid years. There is also the reality that some colleges who offer the N-programs are silent about the required practical components associated with these NATED programs.
South Africa would have to re-insist that apprenticeships and practical learning components receive then attention that it should.
Another perception that must be dispelled, is the idea that one cannot become, for example, an accountant unless one has a degree, and unless one belongs to certain professional bodies at the expense of other professional bodies. There is a great need for people doing bookkeeping, payroll and associated functions with only a diploma or certificate in hand. The idea that one has to employ a degreed person to do a job that someone with a certificate or a diploma can do, must be questioned. This is especially true of certificates and diplomas recognised by professional bodies other than a few that create barriers of entry instead of broadening a profession as a whole.
Workeracy and entrepreneurship versus jobs
The youth must get used to the idea that a qualification should enable them to create work and instead of looking for a job. Some of today’s youth do not want to be saddled in one role only. They want to be multipreneurs and they feel that there is not tolerance in the labour market for multipreneurs.
The youth also believe that entrepreneurship or workeracy is not possible unless one is already a billionaire or unless one has instant access to high levels of start-up capital.
They do not realise that the essence of entrepreneurship and workeracy is not founded in high levels of capital but in the ability to create a product or service needed by others. More so, a service-oriented workeracy dispensation may not need high levels of start-up capital but the ability to persuade potential customers that they need a specific service that is either not found anywhere else or that can be obtained and a lower cost and at a higher quality than what the customer has been exposed to before.
Workeracy and entrepreneurship does not mean instant success. It often translates into hours, months or years of hard work before the billions start to roll in.
The question is: to what extent is the youth willing to invest in effort and time so that rewards can be reaped?
South Africa’s youth unemployment debacle needs a new mindset. The lingering question is: who will be willing to face the challenges and venture the time and energy to overcome the barriers presented to us?