There are 3.4 million NEETs (Not in education, employment or training) in South Africa (Stats SA, September 2015) and around 600 000 unemployed TVET graduates and university graduates. Without interventions to upskill them, prospects seem extremely bleak for NEETs. It is not surprising that this group of young South Africans are often referred to as “South Africa’s ticking time bomb.”
The dual challenge of a very large group of NEETs (39.4% of South Africans aged between 15-34 falls into this group) and high levels of unemployment among TVET and university graduates is too large for government to tackle alone. A wide range of stakeholders need to get involved and be part of the solution.
Fortunately, South Africa has a trump up its sleeve: South Africans are extremely patriotic. We have seen how South Africans unite when our national teams, play soccer, rugby or cricket against international teams. Government needs to tap into this patriotism to find solutions to challenges around NEETs and unemployed graduates.
Government appeals to employer’s patriotism to provide skills upliftment and employment opportunities for these 4 million young South Africans, who need to be absorbed into the formal economy. The campaign could be along the lines of: “Government needs all employers, irrespective of size, to create skills upliftment and employment opportunities for four million young South Africans.
Employers are often reticent to hire university graduates, who do not have any work experience. Some Setas, including Fasset, have funded work readiness programmes for unemployed graduates. Fasset has achieved placement rates of around 73% for these programmes; this confirms that once equipped with some of the softer skills needed in the workplace, unemployed graduates are transformed into value-adding employees, who are able to meet skills gaps within the organisation.
Ideally, every TVET College and university course should include a mandatory work readiness programme. This would enhance employability. These institutions should focus on learners coming through the system. Corporates, government departments, state-owned enterprises, NGOs, trade unions, medium-sized and SMME employers should focus on providing unemployed graduates and NEETs with soft skills training and employment opportunities.
Work readiness programmes, which target unemployed matriculants have also proved very successful. Some of the programmes, which Fasset has funded build skills in areas such as computer literacy and accounting, and often include generic modules, which may enable candidates to gain admission to university. If rolled out on a much larger scale across all Setas, these programmes could have a very positive impact.
In 2013, there were around 800 000 companies in South Africa, who were liable to pay tax. Imagine if each of these employers recruited at least, one NEET or one unemployed graduate and undertook to provide them with soft skills or hard skills training to improve their employability. Imagine if an additional 85 000 NGOS undertook to do this. A minimum of 885 000 NEETs and unemployed graduates would potentially have a foot in the labour market.
Government is the largest employer in the country. According to estimates in June 2014, national government, provincial government and other government institutions collectively, employed 2, 161 million people. Imagine if Government undertook to provide skills upliftment and work readiness training for 10% of the NEETs and unemployed university and TVET graduates in South Africa; this would uplift an additional 210 000 people. Collectively, and conservatively these initiatives, together with private sector initiatives could improve the employability of around 1.1 million young South Africans.
Time bombs have a short fuse. The NEETs time bomb has been ticking for some time. Employers, your country needs you to partner with government to create a bright future for 4 million South Africans. I urge you to enlist today and to commit to making a difference in the life of at least one NEET or unemployed TVET College or university graduate; this is patriotism of the highest order.
Cheryl James is the CEO of the Finance and Accounting Services Seta (Fast).