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Opportunities for SA youth on the rise

Written by Samona Naidu
“Education, skills development and job creation are the most powerful weapons that the youth will need to enable them to run the country's modern economy efficiently.”

This is the view of President Jacob Zuma, who recently spoke about the importance of the country’s youth during the recent inaugural Presidential Indaba on Youth Jobs and Skills.

With over 50 per cent of the country’s population under the age of 39 and just over a third under 15, South Africa is a youthful country.

According to the Twenty Year Review, one of the priorities of government since democracy has been youth development.

In 1996 government established the National Youth Commission (NYC) and the Umsobomvu Youth Fund (UYF) in 2001.

These two initiatives focused on skills development, job creation and small business development for young people.

In 2009, the two organisations merged and on 16 June, President Zuma launched the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). The NYDA was created to tackle the challenges that face the country’s youth.

Written by Samona NaiduAccording to the NYDA, these challenges include poverty, inequality, unemployment and poor health. To address these, in May 2013, the NYDA shifted its focus to education and skills development.

The NYDA says there are about 2.8 million young people who are unemployed and not furthering their studies.

“These young people remain on the margins of society and are vulnerable to social risks such as violence, crime and substance abuse,” the review notes.

One of the major challenges facing the youth is the high teenage pregnancy and dropout rate among 14 to 17 year olds.

“This has a tremendous impact on the life opportunities of young people and their ability to participate meaningfully in the economy either through employment of self-employment,” the review says.

Government has introduced many initiatives to address the challenge of youth unemployment and increase education and training opportunities for the youth. These include learnerships and internships, employment assistance services and entrepreneurial programmes.

Youth Employment Accord

During the recent Indaba on Youth Jobs and Skills, President Zuma said that the country reached an important milestone when the Youth Employment Accord was signed by youth leaders, business, labour, government and the community sector in April last year.

In less than a year since the adoption of the accord, youth employment increased strongly. To date 420 000 new jobs have been created in the construction industry under the country’s National Infrastructure Plan.

Gauteng accounted for about half of the new youth jobs, with 210 000 new jobs registered in the province. To date Gauteng has also spent about R120 million on youth enterprises. The Youth Employment Accord has also promoted the creation of internship opportunities for the youth in national departments, municipalities and state-owned enterprises.

NSC 2nd Chance Programme

With the focus on furthering education, the NYDA together with the Education Training Development Practitioner Sector Education Training Authority (ETDP SETA) launched the National Senior Certificate (NSC) 2nd Chance Programme in 2011.

The programme gives hope to those who did not pass their matric exams. According to the NYDA, as part of the programme 4 500 young people will rewrite their Grade 12 exams at the end of 2014. The programme started in 2011 when 2 039 learners enrolled. By 2013 that figure had grown to 3 168. The pass rate for these learners has also improved from 47 per cent in 2011 to 77 per cent in 2013.

This year the ETDP SETA contributed R3.6 million to fund 1 500 youth and the NYDA contributed R7 million towards the remaining 3 000 youth. As part of the programme, learners receive tuition, career guidance and job preparedness training. The main objective is to give young people who failed matric, a second chance to obtain their National Senior Certificate.

Young Entrepreneurs Programme

Building and developing entrepreneurial skills is a key element in tackling youth unemployment. Over one hundred youth have benefited from the Young Entrepreneurs Programme (YEP) since it began in 2009. The programme facilitated by the NYDA and the International Business Association (IBA) sees local business owner travel overseas for six weeks of business mentorship training.

Through the training, these youth acquire skills and learn business theory through workshops and lectures from top international entrepreneurs in the USA, Germany, Italy and Spain - giving them the skills they need to grow their businesses.

NYDA chairperson Yershen Pillay says the annual programme encourages entrepreneurship development, promotes employment opportunities and develops skills, which could address the high rate of unemployment among South African youth.

Start Here Campaign

Thousands of youth have already benefited from the NYDA’s annual Start Here Campaign - a career guidance programme, aimed at helping young people access reliable and up-to-date information to make informed decisions about their lives and futures.

The initiative forms part of the NYDA’s broader Back to School programme and is one area of the agency’s new focus on education and skills development as a tool to reduce unemployment among South Africa’s youth.

This year, the campaign stepped up its efforts and also launched a new NYDA Career Guidance booklet, which was distributed to schools nationally. The improved booklet is an updated version of the NYDA’s career guidance instruction tool used by practitioners in schools nationwide. It provides information aimed at Grade 9 learners focusing on subject choices; Grade 10, 11 and 12 learners with an emphasis on further education opportunities and outof- school youth, giving information on job hunting and entrepreneurship.

To date R3.1 million has been allocated by the NYDA to career guidance programmes annually while additional funding has been secured through a partnership with the Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Seta (Merseta). So far 533 186 young people have received group career guidance support from the NYDA and the target to ensure that at least 700 000 youth access career guidance support by this year.

According to Pillay, career guidance is crucial in shaping a young person’s career. “Without adequate information and direction, young people often make the wrong subject or qualification choices which lead to inevitable failures later on in life. We have dedicated this years’ Back to School programmes to our former president and icon Nelson Mandela, in line with Madiba’s passion for education.

“We must reiterate his sentiments that education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. We hope to transform the lives of young South Africans through such initiates in the hope of a better life for all,” he added.