REPORT: Reducing Youth Unemployment in South Africa, September 2016

Vignesh Shankar, Ansulie Cooper, and Harvey Koh
FSG and The Rockefeller Foundation
Resource Type: 
Publication Date: 
Sep, 2016

Youth unemployment not only limits the earnings potential and future prospects of a new generation of South Africans, it also stymies business growth, threatens social cohesion, and puts pressure on government resources. Yet data shows that there are half a million entry-level jobs vacant in the country, and with it, a real opportunity to expand economic inclusion. This paper looks at the efforts of government, employers, philanthropic funders, and training providers to bridge the gap between available jobs and first-time work-seekers. 

It shows that the most impactful interventions take place when these actors join forces and highlights two examples of cross-sectoral partnerships: EOH Youth Job Creation Initiative and Mentec Foundation. These initiatives are helping to place thousands of young, disadvantaged South Africans into jobs each year.

The paper concludes with recommendations for employers, funders, training providers, and government to entrench and extend the impact of such cross-sectoral partnerships.

In October 2015, the frustration and anger of students at South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg about a decision to hike tuition fees lit up social media.1 The protest quickly spread to campuses across the country and finally exploded in mass protests outside Parliament and the Union Buildings, drawing parallels to the 1976 Soweto uprisings and the Arab Spring. Commentators pointed out that the protests were about far more than fees. A presidential announcement on a fee-freeze did little to subdue the unrest, and students moved on to radically challenge the status and treatment of workers at universities. It became clear that what fueled this fire was a total revolt by young people about the future they face in South Africa.

Statistics South Africa released a report on youth unemployment in mid-2015.2 News headlines ranged from “The grim situation facing SA’s youth”3 to “Youth unemployment has worsened since 2008”4 and “Scraping a living where no jobs are to be found.”5 The report shows the crisis levels of youth unemployment and underscores why the promise of a better life for all rings hollow for so many young people.

Only one in three young people of working age in South Africa is employed. Young people across the country do not seem to be reaping the benefits of job creation, while job losses hit this group the hardest. Between 2008 and 2015, one million more adults were employed in South Africa while youth job losses numbered over 200,000.6 In its 2011 diagnostic report, the National Planning Commission wrote, “Unemployment is mostly experienced by youth.”7 For more than 12 million young people, this spells limited earnings potential and a life on the margins of the economy. South Africa faces the prospect of yet another lost generation through the erosion of skills and human capital that comes with prolonged unemployment, and with it, an ever-growing number of people who are reliant on state grants.

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Workforce Development
Sub-Saharan Africa