South African youth can improve their employment prospects

MORE than one quarter of the South African labour force is unemployed. This discouraging fact was revealed in Statistics South Africa’s latest Quarterly  Labour Force Survey which indicated that, of the 35.8 million people of working age, 5.5 million are unemployed while 14.8 million are not economically active (these include people who are able to work but are not, such as students and those caring for children).

It is particularly concerning that the majority of the 26.4 percent unemployed South Africans are in the youth sector (ages 15 to 24). The South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) issued a report in April this year entitled “Born Free But Still in Chains” which highlights the situation of the 27 million South Africans – half the country’s population – born post-1990. It states that unemployment among male born frees of working age, including discouraged workers (those who have given up job seeking) totals 67 percent while 75 percent of females are unemployed. Dishearteningly, statistics also show that unemployment has risen drastically by 159.3 percent since 1994 and continues to rise. 

And the problem is not just a local one. The SAIRR report reads: “This means that South Africa and Greece currently have similar unemployment rates – except that the South African rate follows five years of economic growth, whereas the Greek rate follows six years of recession.” In an effort to counteract this, 74 000 Born Frees in South Africa have started up local businesses, the majority of them micro-entrepreneurs. However, this figure is still relatively low and barely makes a dent in the overall unemployment rate. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor states that only 35 percent of South Africans discern entrepreneurial opportunities whereas it averages about 70 percent in various other sub-Saharan countries. Frans Cronje, CEO of SAIRR, said the unemployment rate was linked to South Africa’s lack of domestic competitiveness, specifically the cost lof labour in relation to the product manufactured. “This is an example of why our clothing industry has suffered such a decline,” explained Cronje.

Advising the youth, Cronje said that, before deciding on what to study, people need to investigate what employers are looking for. “Primary and secondary industries that would primarily employ less skilled people are in decline. The high-skilled tertiary sector is doing relatively better. Employers increasingly require high levels of technical and other skills.” Although there is no denying that the South African unemployment statistics are dire, South Africa is not alone. The International Labor Organization’s “World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends 2015” indicates that there are 201 million jobseekers worldwide, an increase of one million from last year. This is, in a large part, a knock-on effect of the 2007 global recession which drastically slowed the growth of employment. 

Internationally, youth unemployment reached 13 percent in 2014, almost three times higher than the unemployment rate for adults. The report reads: “Many countries are projected to see a substantial increase in youth unemployment…The largest increases in 2015 will be observed in East Asia and the Middle East with an expected further increase over the following years.” A shortage of skills is often linked to the high unemployment rate but this appears to be problematic even in developed countries. According to ManpowerGroup’s “2015 Talent Shortage Survey”, hiring managers in Japan reported an 83 percent talent shortage while Peru noted an almost two thirds shortage (68 percent) and Hong Kong a 65 percent deficit. The global average of talent shortage is 38 percent with South Africa sitting below the average at 31 percent. 

Although these statistics do not promise an easy road for South African job seekers, there are success stories that give hope to others. One such story is that of Activator and event planner, Innocentia Sibanyoni, who – despite having studied Mechanical Engineering at Ekurhuleni East College – found herself unemployed and struggling to find a job. “I thought about my options and realised my passion is for co-ordinating events so I decided to start my own company,” said Sibanyoni. Through serious determination she built up her events’ organisation, PaperChase Entertainment Pty Ltd, recognised as one of Ekhurhuleni’s best youth-owned businesses, as well as a development platform, Youth Vibes Business & Leadership Initiative. Advising youngsters on finding a place in the job market, Sibanyoni said internships were a great start. “Many organisations offer internships to unemployed graduates giving them real insights into how an organisation works. Internships will not only build up your knowledge but also introduce you to some big business contacts that could secure your future career.” She suggested finding a way to communicate achievements in a powerful way. “Young people need to start thinking in terms of achievements and not activities. When it comes to CVs, application forms and interviews, you don’t want to tell them what you did but how well you did it.”
Collecting evidence of achievements such as powerful story examples to discuss in interviews, press clippings, awards, video, audio, blogs and references is a great way for applicants to differentiate themselves. “Realise what employers are really looking for, regardless of what the job says,” she explained. “The employer wants to know that you can do the job, that you will fit in and that you will add value.”

In line with Sibanyoni’s advice, The National Employers’ Association of South Africa (NEASA) encourages young people to both volunteer and network to improve job prospects. Media liaison executive at NEASA, Shantall Ramatsui, said suggestions made by labour market analyst, Loane Sharp, make a lot of sense. “He says that volunteering always makes for a good interview topic and shows commitment and time-management skills,” explained Ramatsui. “While networking strengthens relationships, allows people to hear about job opportunities and raises your job profile.” Networking can even be done online via Twitter chats or various networking groups. Ramatsui said that employers prefer candidates who have experience, particulary if the candidate’s education qualifications are poor. “Waiting for those young people who already have some experience allows employers to benefit from the training that job seekers might have received elsewhere. “Experience can also be evidence of the employability of a young person.” Job seekers can also turn to useful sites such as www.harambee.co.za and www.carreerplanet.co.za, which give practical tips on how to write a CV and where to look for jobs.

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