The children of any nation are its future. A country, a movement, a person that does not value its youth and children does not deserve its future.
– Oliver Tambo
Unemployment in Africa is a crisis, especially in South Africa. All you have to do is scroll down your Twitter timelines and find numerous tweets that sound off with “Please RT my future employer could be on your timeline”.
For decades, young people have been taught that education is the way forward, unlocking many doors in the hallway of success. And this is true. Education is tantamount to growth. However after graduating many African graduates are left out in the cold and unemployed.
Current status of African youth
Africa is the most youthful continent in the world. Today it is estimated that Africans aged 15-35 make up roughly 40% of its population. However youth unemployment is one of Africa’s greatest challenges.
Current status of unemployment in South Africa
According to a new report by Statistics South Africa the unemployment rate among young people aged 15–34 was 38,2%. Gender and race are a determining factor.
The unemployment rate for youths aged between 15 and 24 years is 52.2%, and 35.5% for those between 25 and 34.
The unemployment rate among the youth is higher irrespective of educational level, but those with less than Matric were more likely to experience serious challenges when seeking employment. Of the 10.3-million young people aged between 15 and 24 years, 3.1-million were not in employment, education or training.
The current state of youth unemployment has discouraged young South Africans to the point where they are not building on their skills base through education and training. The disappointment is palpable on street corners with graduates holding placards begging for jobs. In 2017, StatsSA reported that 39% of unemployed South Africans had never worked before. Among youth, that figure was 60.3%.
Why are there so many unemployed graduates?
One of the biggest issues is the lack of adequate growth in the job market. Simply put, there are not enough jobs for the job seekers. While there is an increase in job opportunities, it is eclipsed by the number of job seekers.
Another reason for the number of unemployed graduates is the large disconnect between what and how universities teach and the experience of actually working in the job market. There is a heavy emphasis by universities on theoretical learning, with very little practical experience and/or teachings provided. This results in graduates that are not qualified but not ready to enter the job market.
Placing the blame solely on the educational system is unfair. Dr Salim Vally, a senior researcher and director of the Centre for Education Rights and Transformation at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), said “blaming the government alone too is disingenuous since business itself was hugely complicit throughout the past decades for erecting the structural barriers to high-quality education for the working class and the poor.” A reflective look at the economy and consequences of capitalism is desperately required. Capitalist economies control labour processes, breeds inequality and forms non-inclusive and oppressive societies. African countries, especially South Africa must seriously consider fostering and investing in socially useful labour, work outside the formal labour markets. Work outside the formal labour market could range from individual to collective responses to the failure of the market in producing useful forms of employment. Some of these initiatives include the formation of common wealth trusts, production, consumption and distribution cooperatives, solidaristic economies, climate change jobs not subject to “greenwashing,” occupied factories, communes and stokvels amongst other forms of socio-economic and livelihood organisation.
Unemployment in Africa is heartbreaking and sobering. African governments must act fast to avert this ticking bomb. African governments must critically review and reform their education systems. They should create a more holistic approach that will balance skills development and social reform. Equally important, governments must seriously explore and invest in fostering work outside the formal labour market that will absorb the unemployed graduates excluded from formal employment.