Graduates face another challenge, finding a job

The 2022 graduation season that kicked off at the beginning of March gave us all a great sense of pride to see young people celebrate the
completion of their academic qualifications and professional designations.

For those of us who caught a glimpse of the jubilation, most notably from the University of KwaZulu-Natal on social media, one could not help but feel a sense of collective pride. Access to higher education remains a sore point for many South Africans, so for the scores that were able to walk the stage it was a moment of pride.

The next step after graduation is to obtain a job. The levels of youth unemployment are at crisis level. The quarterly labour force survey for the first quarter of 2022 indicates an unemployment rate of 63.9% for those aged between 15 and 24, and 42.1% for those aged between 25 and 34.

Although graduate unemployment is lower than the other educational levels, it remains a problem.

Statistics South Africa estimates graduate unemployment for those aged 15-24 at 32.6% and 22.4% for those aged 25-34 in the first quarter of 2022.

Why are so many graduates unemployed? The age-old concern has been the great mismatch between skills attained and skills required by the workforce, and the lack of experience.

But according to the Human Sciences Research Council, with the increased transition of the economy from industry and manufacturing to the services economy, employers are searching for basic capabilities in communication, writing and comprehension that do not necessarily require a post-
secondary qualification. This is likely to increase with the further expansion of the gig economy.

Success in the labour market is almost always linked to work-readiness (the dreaded three- to five-year work experience). Even if this is the case we can now see that social networks are more powerful tool for success in the labour market. What is concerning is that young African work seekers are less likely to access these networks.

In 1992, 78% of youth indicated that they were affiliated to some type of organisation but by 2000 only 43% of youth were affiliated to organisations such as churches and sports bodies. With decreasing involvement in organisations, this decreases the pool of networks, particularly for African youth who do not have household members and family members who are wage earners.

Even when youth find employment there are still challenges to overcome. Youth employed in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the International Labour Organisation, are either under-employed or lack access to decent working conditions. With the crisis in the labour market the dominant narrative, the problem is mischaracterised, as are the actual solutions.

Over and above the lack of opportunities for employment, there are other dimensions to the crises.

Young people are prone to taking risks when they are engaged in economic activity. They are often engaged in what is deemed “high risk, low reward” work,  for example seasonal work and casual labour with little guarantees of prolonged opportunities.

Young people who are engaged in gig economy work (Uber driver, Take A Lot drivers, food delivery) are particularly vulnerable with no ability to set prices and determine
better wages due to the pre-set pricing of the services on the apps and their misclassification as independent contractors.

The final dimension relates to the lack of protection for young workers. Young employees are often engaged in informal work, self-employment or employment generally not covered by labour and social protection, and as a result they face risk of exposure to unsafe work environments and abuse.

As the country celebrates youth month, the challenge of youth unemployment and under-employment should be on the minds of all policymakers, stakeholders and politicians as the most important challenges to overcome.

The July unrest has taught us that youth unemployment is a threat to the well-being of the economy, and it is in the interest of all South Africans and social cohesion to overcome these crises.

Lebogang Mulaisi is Cosatu’s head of policy and a board member of National Youth Development Agency (NYDA)


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