Opening up the workplace to our youth

Everyone remembers their first job. It was nerve-racking but exciting at the same time. Mostly, you felt gratitude at being given a chance to get a foot in the door. You could now look ahead with aspiration to your future career path.

Looking back we are reminded of how far we have come in our own professions and as human beings since those first uncertain days.

Government, together with its social partners have a plan to give young people their first work experience and in doing so aims to address the problem of youth unemployment.

Last week Government together with community, labour and business organisations committed to a Social Accord on Youth Employment which will introduce a large number of young people into the workplace.

The Accord follows a call last year by President Jacob Zuma to social partners in the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) to speed up the talks on youth employment.

Following extensive consultation between all social partners, taking into account their respective interests and views, a united front in the battle against youth unemployment has been forged.

Firm targets to address youth unemployment, expand employment opportunities and empower youth to be active participants in the economy have been set.

The action is part of the “extraordinary measures” that the National Development Plan (NDP) – the country’s blue print to develop the nation over the next 20 years - has called for to address high levels of unemployment, particularly among the youth.

Youth unemployment is one of the main challenges the country is facing. Census 2011 revealed that South Africa is a youthful nation with the average age of the population at 25 years old and a third of our population of 52 million under the age of 15 years.

Even though a youthful nation is generally regarded as a positive indicator, viewed against the country’s unemployment statistics it is a cause for concern. Youth currently make up 4,5 million of the unemployed in the country.

South Africa is not alone in this dilemma, research by the United Nations and African Progress Panel shows that youth unemployment is a worldwide problem that has been exacerbated by the global economic crisis. Africa alone will need an estimated 74 million jobs over the next decade to address the issue.

While there is no silver bullet to address the challenge of youth unemployment, the Social Accord on Youth Employment together with Government’s youth support programmes will go a long way to help stem the problem.

The Social Accord on Youth Employment has six commitments:

    Youth that have just finished school will be offered a chance to further their studies and be trained. Further Education and Training (FET) colleges will increase their intake of students to promote vocational and technical skills.
    Young school leavers will be connected to jobs through job placement schemes and work-readiness promotion programmes.
    More youth will be employed in the public sector as Government departments introduce a focused internship programme that is equal to five per cent of the total employment of the respective departments.
    Existing youth employment programmes will be scaled up and coordinated under a “youth brigade” initiative to increase the number of young people employed in the public sector.
    Certain new sectors in the economy will have targets to employ mostly young people. This will ensure that older workers are not displaced.

    For example the new solar water heater installation industry is a sector that will draw young people in large numbers.

    Government will also support youth cooperatives and youth owned enterprises that provide the industry with installation and maintenance services.
    The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) will set aside R1 billion of its “Gro-E” funding scheme to make low-interest rate loans available to youth-owned or youth-focussed enterprises over the next three years.

    Employment initiatives such as vacation programmes, summer internships and job shadowing are also part of the solution to youth employment. Through work sharing agreements, Government will ensure that part-time opportunities are available to young job seekers.

    Businesses will be incentivised to employ young people, without the stringent conditions of full-time employment, through Government subsiding work opportunities. The details on the incentives will be finalised after further consultation with stakeholders.

Government has committed R500 million in tax relief as part of the youth employment incentive and over the next three years the incentive is budgeted to cost R4 billion.

Government will set in place a range of measures to ensure that older workers are not replaced in favour of first-time workers to simply take advantage of the incentive.

Already companies in the financial sector, through the Harambee programme are helping to implement aspects of the Accord. The Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator will place 3 000 young people in entry-level work by the middle of this year, with a target of 10 000 by the end of 2014.

Our initiatives will help our young people enter the job market, gain valuable experience and access career opportunities.

By doing so, it will not only provide young people with their first work experience, but also give them the confidence and the necessary skills to ensure their future success in finding a job.

Which young South African will you help in 2013?  Let’s all work together to give our young people their first break and put as many as possible on the path to success.

Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)

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