We need to think beyond higher education and training for the answer to the unemployment problem.
It is 43 years since the 1976 Soweto Uprising and 25 years into democracy, yet the youth of South Africa continue to struggle for financial freedom. Affordable, quality education is hard to come by, and even after graduating, employment is tough to find. Desperate graduates have been “begging” for work at traffic lights, others use social media to spread the word about their qualification after having tried more traditional avenues without success.
In 2015, South Africa had a total population of 54.96 million registered citizens with 66 percent of those citizens considered as the youth, meaning that they were under the age of 35. In the past couple of years, youth unemployment has soared from 40% to 55.2%, which means a large percentage of the South African population is unemployed.
Protests and demonstrations have yielded historic strides. The June 1976 uprising saw school children take to the streets after oppressive apartheid laws introduced Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at schools. It altered the socio-political landscape and is etched into our history.
The recent #FeesMustFall protests that began in mid-October 2015 drew much needed attention to rising tertiary education fees and the cost of higher education since the dawn of democracy.
But these strides have yet to translate into economic freedom and youth employment.
Since the youth cannot just pick up posters and placards and go to the streets demanding work, it is imperative that young people begin to make their own strides and create their own employment opportunities.
With so many qualified professionals sitting in debt for degrees that will hang on the wall of their parent’s living rooms collecting dust, we need to think beyond higher education and training for the answer to the unemployment problem. Perhaps the issue is that the question of what should happen after the degree is obtained is often left for the eleventh hour whereas it should be addressed even before the application is filled out.
Even though government must take responsibility to ensure that the young people of South Africa are employed, it is also up to us, the youth, to become active participants in the country’s economy. We must become job-creators and not simply be job-seekers.
In a day and age where it only costs R175.00 to register a company, young people have an array of possibilities to partner up and create employment opportunities for themselves and others. A friend of mine once jokingly said something that never left me while we were undergraduate students, she said: “Should our careers not work out, let’s start a business.” She even designated jobs for us based on what we were studying at the time, from marketing head to the accounts department.
These are the kinds of mindsets that universities, and really our entire education system, discourages the youth from having. Yet we look at the youth unemployment stats each year and wonder where the solution is going to come from. Well, we are the solution. Or as author Sihle Bolani puts it, “we are the ones we need!”
South Africa has an endless ocean of business possibilities and opportunities for the youth to explore. Instead of educating ourselves on the latest format of a CV, we should look into educating each other on the latest format of a business proposal.
We need more entrepreneurial and skills education in our curriculum. And while it is the responsibility of the government to make sure that the gap is bridged, it won’t happen overnight. It’s up to us to volunteer and leverage any and every opportunity we can get to acquire the kind of skills and knowledge that will aid us to not only generate an income for ourselves but also create employment opportunities for our fellow youth.
It has been time for quite some time now; we cannot sit and wait for something to be done to help the young people of South Africa. Vuk’uzenzele! The new trending question should be how many young people have you employed to date?