Throughout Youth Month 2021, our focus was on addressing youth employment. And for good reason: the high rate of unemployment among young people in SA, especially those aged 18 to 24, is a national crisis that we must confront.

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic has been most severe for low-skilled, low-income workers, especially those working in the informal sector. Young people and women have been most affected, and many of those who lost their jobs have not yet regained them.

The unemployment crisis may seem too big to tackle, yet there are things we can do now and going forward to tackle youth unemployment head-on, and to provide young people with the support that they need to participate more fully in the economy.

On Youth Day, we officially launched the SA Youth network, which is an essential part of the presidential youth employment intervention. The network should be a game-changer in our effort to expand access to the opportunities available to young South Africans.

SA Youth brings together a wide range of partners within and beyond the government to create an ecosystem of support for young people. It aims to ensure that every young person, no matter where they are or what their circumstances, has a place to go for information and support.

Young people can register on the network for free via SAYouth.mobi, a mobi-site that is zero-rated by all mobile operators, or at any of the 127 labour centres and NYDA centres in all nine provinces.

Once they have registered and completed their profile, they can view and access opportunities for learning and earning. The platform brings together opportunities from multiple partners in one place.

The network provides active support through multiple channels, whether face-to-face, on WhatsApp or via a toll-free contact centre, to help young people along their journey into employment.

We do not underestimate the challenges that many young people face in simply taking their first step into the labour market. Searching for work costs a lot – travelling to many places, printing documents, figuring out where opportunities are available.

For those without strong social networks, those who live in areas away from the centres of economic activity, and those whose education was cut short for one reason or another, the challenge of finding a first job can be daunting.

In addition to SA Youth, we are implementing a number of targeted actions to boost youth employment.

We are piloting a new model for demand-led skills development which links training directly to employment in growth sectors. Rather than counting the number of young people we train, we will count – and pay for – the number who are placed in employment afterwards.

We are also establishing a Presidential Youth Service to provide young people with opportunities to earn an income and gain work experience while contributing to their communities and building their skills.

Finally, we are ramping up our support for youth-owned enterprises through the department of small business development and its agencies – the Small Enterprise Development Agency and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency to reach 15,000 young entrepreneurs.

Our strategy to address youth employment therefore aims to tackle the problem from many angles: by supporting and enabling private sector growth and employment; by creating opportunities for young people to take their first steps in the labour market; by supporting youth enterprise; and by making it easier for young people to navigate the system, gathering information and opportunities around them.

The presidential youth employment intervention is different because it aims for impact at scale, rather than many small programmes with limited impact. It is also different because it emphasises the need for partnerships across society to support models that work, and recognise that government cannot solve this problem alone.

Youth unemployment may be daunting, but it is not insurmountable. We have a clear strategy and the right ingredients to tackle it. Our actions to tackle youth unemployment start today, to harness the energy and potential of our young people.

Source: Article written by Khumbudzo Ntshavheni on 29 June 2021. Ntshavheni is the acting minister in the presidency. Published on https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/opinion/columnists/2021-06-29-sa-youth-network-a-game-changer-in-expanding-earning-and-learning/. Photo credit: The youth of T and R sections protest against unemployment and a lack of service delivery, Zintle Bobelo.

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