Cover Image
close this bookThe Transition of Youth from School to Work: Issues and Policies (IIEP, 2000, 188 p.)
close this folderChapter V. Youth and work in South Africa: issues, experiences and ideas from a young democracy by Adrienne Bird
View the documentIntroduction
View the document1. Unemployment and recession
View the document2. Social dimensions of unemployment
View the document3. Government responses to unemployment
View the document4. School and skill issues for young people
View the document5. Government responses - education and training
View the document6. What does this all mean from the perspective of a young person?
View the documentConclusion

4. School and skill issues for young people

Educational level contributes to employment and income inequality. Statistics South Africa noted in 1998 that the relationship between education and unemployment was 'curvilinear', i.e. unemployment was highest (25 per cent) for those with an intermediate amount of education, and lower for those with none (19 per cent) or with 12 years of schooling or more (18 per cent)43. The level falls dramatically at higher levels of education. Lucas and Fallen found that the probability of an African with 14 years of education being unemployed was around 1 per cent, as compared to about 30 per cent for those with 10 years of education44. For a person aged 25, the wage differentials accruing per year of education for those with 14 years of education compared with those with no education were 17.1, 15.7 and 18.8 per cent for Africans, whites and other groups respectively - high returns by international standards.

43 1998 Statistics South Africa, Unemployment and Employment in South Africa, Table 9, page 60.

44 Fallon and Lucas, Figure 4, p. 14 and p. 29.

It is difficult to prove that skill shortages inhibit high economic growth. But the dramatic fall-off of unemployment for those with high-level skills, and the wage premium that is earned at these levels relative to intermediate levels, appears to support this contention.

The fact that apartheid denied black South Africans a good quality general education has been widely documented. This was one of the first areas of intervention of the new democratic government. One measure of the change is the different age profile of school leavers. In 1993, only 18 per cent of African students writing their school leaving examinations were under 18 and 82 per cent were 19 or older, signally high repeater rates. In 1995 the figure of those under 18 had risen to 43 per cent and consequentially 56 per cent for those over 1945. The reason for the continued, although improved, level of learner repetition rates is to be found in poor-quality learning and teaching opportunities, which persist in many schools. (Government is incrementally tackling problems but, given the scale, they could not be resolved overnight). But the poor prospects of finding work after school also contribute - young people remain at school in an attempt to attain the tertiary-level entry qualification as a hedge against unemployment. In the age cohort 20-24, some 16 per cent enrolled for tertiary education in recent years. There is pressure for these institutions to accept more learners, but financial constraints are limiting access - and student-support schemes are unable to afford to meet the demand.

45 1997 South African Science and Technology Data Overview, Foundation for Research Development, Figure 1.1.

Those students who leave school without a 'matriculation exemption' entitling them to proceed to tertiary-level learning have few other options -and have a high chance of remaining unemployed. There has been an 80 per cent decline in the number of apprenticeships from the mid-1970s, with an absolute level of about 5,000 new contracts signed in 1995. There is an intermediate college sector which provides occupationally oriented courses to students, but these students are often less likely to be employed than people with work experience46.

46 Standing, G. et al., p. 340. The Report indicates that when recruiting production workers, 51.4 per cent of employers stated work experience was the most important characteristic, followed by 11.1 per cent who sought training and 9.6 per cent cited schooling. For employees, 58.4 per cent stated work experience was most important, followed by 14.4 per cent training and 7.3 per cent schooling.

The trend of different occupational groups (see Table 3) is indicative of where such people are finding employment.

Table 3. Employment of occupational groups, 1970-199547

47 Bhorat and Hodge, Table 5, p. 8.













356 402

115 058

732 635

1 243 348

2 522 471

1 679 794

587 884

286 389

18 137

7 542 118


1 300 700

425 400

1 690 200

1 165 800

1 155 800

1 556 100

610 400

644 100

36 700

8 585 200

% change













































The low educational levels of the unemployed are circumscribing the type of informal-sector activity, and the value added of that activity.