The Youth Employment Service (YES) programme is led and funded by the private sector. Companies sponsor 12-month youth work experiences, either within their own business, or within community-based non-profit organisations (NPOs). CEO of YES, Ravi Naidoo, explains why seeking to create jobs at scale for unemployed youth can help to drive lasting economic and societal change.
Youth unemployment has reached critical levels in South Africa. Just how bad is the problem and what does this mean for stability and democracy in the country?
Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) reported an unemployment rate of 34.5% in Q1 2022, the highest in the world. For youth, the figures are more dire: twothirds of South Africans aged 15 to 34 are unemployed. To shift this trajectory, government must radically improve the quality of education in public schools (particularly the worst 50% of schools) and undertake structural reforms to boost economic growth.
Without meaningful progress, unemployment and all its ills will continue. Our young people are more than the future customers and tax base on which our economy will stand. They need to gain practical skills to keep South Africa competitive in a rapidly changing global economy. Crucially, they must be economically included to benefit from this long-awaited economic democracy.
What is behind our youth unemployment crisis and how has the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem?
The pandemic had a drastic effect on unemployment in South Africa. The number of people with jobs declined
from 16.3 million to 14.5 million between 2020 and 2022. But the root of the crisis lies in the lingering legacy of apartheid education – and a further 28 years of poor management – that requires radical change. Our young people don’t have the skills they need to be employable right now.
Secondly, levels of economic growth have barely touched 2% a year in the last ten years. Thirdly, the global economy is in the midst of major changes resulting from the impact of new technologies and accelerated by the pandemic. Millions are likely to be left behind, unless they can acquire the right skills and experience.
What is the government doing to address the issue? Do you believe its programmes can make a significant difference to youth unemployment?
President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address 2022 outlined how government plans to address the youth unemployment crisis:
- The first two phases of the Presidential Employment Stimulus programme, launched in 2020, has supported more than 850 000 work opportunities in government schools (such as teaching assistants and general assistants).
- The Social Employment Fund will create 50 000 work opportunities in areas such as urban agriculture, early childhood development, public art and tackling gender-based violence.
- A revitalised National Youth Service is set to recruit its first cohort of 50 000 young people during the next year.
- The Department of Higher Education and Training will place 10 000 unemployed technical and vocational education and training college graduates in workplaces from April 2022.
All of the above can have a positive impact, but we need to boost employment, especially for young work seekers. Even if we did not have the current economic difficulties, we would still require special policy and incentives for the private sector to make it easier and less risky to employ youth. Programmes like YES need to be accelerated to drive employment in the short term.
YES has made a significant impact on job creation. How many jobs have been created and how has this been achieved?
YES is a 100% private-sector-funded initiative to create job opportunities for unemployed youth. Since 2019, YES has worked with more than 2 200 private companies and numerous implementation partners to get more than 89 900 young people into first-time jobs. This has seen young workers earn more than R4.9 billion.
Sustainable jobs require that youth acquire the skills needed to connect to, and thrive in, the modern digital world. Thousands of YES participants are being placed in positions like data capturers, business process outsourcing roles, cybersecurity agents, digital artisans, drone pilots, content creators and software developers. These future-facing sectors can help South Africa emerge as a leading nation in the digital age.
How can companies partner with YES and what are some of the advantages?
Companies can join YES and make a real contribution to reducing youth unemployment. They can also gain up to two levels on their Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment Scorecards and can showcase their work with YES to their investors and stakeholders as evidence of their contribution to sustainability or environmental, social and governance issues. YES is a commercially viable way for a socially conscious company to make a positive impact.
A company can join YES by following these steps:
- Visit the YES website and click on the ‘4 Business’ tab. Follow the steps on the site to register.
- Contact email@example.com assistance
RAVI NAIDOO, CEO of YES: firstname.lastname@example.org