South Africa’s most pressing challenge right now is youth unemployment, says president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Addressing a national teaching conference on Wednesday (6 October), Ramaphosa said the country’s education sector will need to adapt to help better produce people with the skills needed for the country.
“Some of the young work-seekers are not well educated and do not possess sufficient skills and previous work experience demanded by employers in the labour market,” president Ramaphosa said.
“That places a great responsibility on teachers and education officials – and indeed on all of us – to ensure that our schools, colleges, universities and other training institutions are producing the skills and capabilities that our country needs.”
The president said that some of the critical changes must include:
That every young child has access to early childhood development;
That every child can read for meaning at the appropriate age;
That government prioritises achievement in science, technology, engineering and mathematics;
That the country substantially reduces the drop-out rate in its schools.
“We must ensure that every school-leaver has the confidence, the capabilities and the opportunities to study further, find employment or gain work experience.
“This work should align with initiatives like the SA Youth pathway management network, the Presidential Employment Stimulus and the YES initiative, which support young people in their efforts to find pathways into the economy.”
Dr Azar Jammine, director and chief economist at Econometrix, said that South Africa also has a large labour force that could be more productive than it currently is.
In an interview with the Free Market Foundation this week, Jammine said that only small pockets of skilled excellence are keeping the economy functioning, while a vast pool of unemployed people are unable to add value due to a lack of education and skills.
“One really needs to look at the educational system at the heart of our structural weaknesses to realise what can be done to turn this country around.”
Employment data from StatsSA for the second quarter showed that South Africa’s unemployment rate increased by 1.8 percentage points to 34.4% compared to Q1:2021. Youth aged 15-24 years and 25-34 years recorded the highest unemployment rates of 64.4% and 42.9% respectively.
Approximately 3.4 million (33%) out of 10.2 million young people aged 15-24 years were not in employment, education, or training (NEET), the stats body said.
The number of young South Africans (15-34 years) not in employment, education or training (NEET) was 44.2% in Q2 2021. The NEET rate for males decreased by 1.2 percentage points, while for females, the rate increased by 0.2 of a percentage point in Q2 2021.
In both Q2 2020 and Q2 2021, more than four in every 10 young males and females were not in employment, education or training.
Graduate unemployment is 23.4% points lower than the national official unemployment rate, StatsSA said.