This article summarises a co-authored research paper delivered at the African Association for Public Administration and Management (AAPAM) 42nd Roundtable Conference in Livingstone, Zambia, in December 2023.

High youth unemployment

South Africa is facing a critical challenge of high youth unemployment, with over 60% of 15-24-year-olds struggling to find meaningful employment. This issue impacts the nation’s social fabric and threatens its future stability. In this article, we delve into the pressing issue of youth unemployment, exploring its causes and proposing strategies to create a future of work that is inclusive and equitable for South Africa’s youth.

Various factors exacerbate youth unemployment in South Africa, including a preference for older workers, inflexible workplace structures, insufficient support for young entrepreneurs, and a lack of access to quality education, training, and skills. To address youth unemployment, it is crucial to dismantle existing power structures and reassess societal attitudes and policies that perpetuate exclusion. By promoting individual agency, capabilities, and freedom, we can empower young people to shape their job search behaviours and develop resilience.

Tackling social exclusion

The concept of social exclusion plays a significant role in understanding the challenges faced by young people in accessing vital resources and opportunities necessary for full societal participation. Limited access to employment, education, entrepreneurial opportunities, and training intensifies this exclusion. A comprehensive approach is required to address these issues and create a more equitable and prosperous future for the youth, ensuring a better quality of life.

South Africa, along with Lesotho and Namibia, experiences some of the highest youth unemployment rates globally, indicating deep-rooted structural problems in the region. In contrast, Western Europe has achieved lower youth unemployment rates through sustained economic growth, investments in education and training, and the creation of more job opportunities. However, youth unemployment is just one facet of the challenges faced by young people, including poverty, inequality, and limited access to basic services. It is imperative to address these issues holistically to foster an inclusive and prosperous future for the youth.

Youth empowerment interventions

Recognising the demand for technological and digital skills among the youth, the National Youth Policy emphasises collaboration between social partners to tackle the multifaceted challenges of youth unemployment. At the same time, several crucial public employment interventions, such as the Community Works Programme, Expanded Public Works Programme, youth cooperatives, Presidential Youth Employment Initiative, Internship Programme, and Jobs Fund, have been implemented and deserve recognition for their positive impact.

Addressing youth unemployment and promoting equity in South Africa’s future of work requires a comprehensive and collaborative approach. To overcome the barriers hindering youth employment, policymakers and stakeholders must comprehensively review relevant legislation and policies. A thorough review of the Skills Development Act (SDA) is necessary to ensure it effectively addresses the skills development needs of young people. Additionally, dedicated youth employment programmes, skills development initiatives, and entrepreneurship support should be introduced to target the needs of young job seekers. Moreover, investing in education, fostering innovation, promoting entrepreneurship, and creating an inclusive work environment can empower the youth and drive economic growth.

The Department of Public Service and Administration (DPSA) plays a vital role in implementing policies and initiatives that support young job seekers and facilitate their meaningful participation in the workforce. For instance, the Public Service Act (PSA) offers a framework for the public service sector, including recruitment, selection, and promotion regulations.

Moreover, structured internship and apprenticeship programmes should be established to maximise their benefits for youth employment, balancing experience with potential and enthusiasm. Mentorship and support Programmes should also be implemented to enhance the professional growth of young public servants.

In this regard, policy flexibility is strongly encouraged in the amended “Directive on Human Resources Management and Development for Public Service Professionalisation” recently issued by the DPSA. Among other things, the Directive requires that Executive Authorities review the inherent requirements of jobs in the Public Service and set minimum entry requirements into Senior Management Service (SMS) as well as mobility within the SMS, waive experience for entry-level posts in the Public Service and Graduate Recruitment Scheme, and digitise applications into electronic applications.

In addition, the DPSA has piloted the innovative Emerging Leaders in the Public Service (ELIPS) Programme after identifying a gap in how young public servants are prepared for future leadership and management roles in the Public Service. The ELIPS Programme aims to build the next layer of leadership for the Public Service through executive coaching, mentorship, and communities of practice under professional coaches drawn from the public service. In 2023, the programme benefitted over 120 interns and young people in the Public Service who are 35 years old or younger. Such initiatives should be scaled for more impact.

In conclusion, we advocate for more investment in quality education and technology-enabled training as crucial for equipping the youth with the necessary skills to thrive in the modern job market. Additionally, promoting flexible work arrangements that accommodate the preferences of young workers can lead to a better work-life balance and increased productivity. Together, we can shape a future where young people can access opportunities and contribute to the nation’s prosperity.

  • Dr Mataywa Busieka is Director: APRM Research in the DPSA and is affiliated with North-West University.
  • Ms Gcino Mlaba is Director: APRM National Secretariat in the DPSA and AAPAM’s Young Professionals Vice-President for Southern Africa.