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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


In conclusion, some reflections are provided on the five themes of this round-table discussion from a South African perspective:

i. Youth at risk in developing middle-income countries. Targeted policies for youth at risk, whether preventative or curative, will remain marginal in a wider sea of critical unemployment. Difficult choices have to be made about the allocation of scarce resources, although these choices have to be situated in the context of the social cost of not prioritizing this group.

ii. Youth training schemes are being introduced in the South African context as a way of dealing with the extremely high incidence of unemployment amongst school leavers. Evidence, even at this early stage, suggests that post-qualification placement in formal or self-employment will remain the greatest challenge. And placement is at its most severely difficult where there is no practical work experience.

iii. Training for the informal sector is a relatively new area for South Africans and there is a great need to further explore it. However, even at this early stage, the current experience seems to be in line with lessons elsewhere, that this training:

· Needs to be rooted into the social context and productive networks of the learners and their communities;

· Needs to be linked to other interventions such as credit assistance and marketing and technology advice. The most successful examples have been linked to 'hives' where integrated support has been provided.

Even at the survivalist end of the spectrum, success has been achieved when additional services, such as bulk-buying arrangements, are in place.

However, failure rates across the board remain high and reasons need to be analyzed more carefully. It is, furthermore, a concern that there is evidence of displacement of formal for informal-sector activity.

iv. Links to work: the South African formal apprenticeship system has failed to rise to the challenge of providing a bridge for young people to enter the labour market.

The newly proposed 'learnership' system is an attempt to remedy this problem. It provides for structured learning and work experience and culminates in an occupational qualification. Recent experience suggests that this framework is promising, but extensive support is still needed to bridge from the learnership to placement and self-employment. In addition, firms require real financial incentives to participate in the scheme. It is hoped that the levy-grant scheme will help to provide these incentives and encourage firms to both provide opportunities for work experience and then facilitate post-training placement.

There is, at present, a problem on the side of training providers, and it is expected that the programmes of the Department of Education will enhance the capacity of providers to support learnerships in a more flexible way.

v. Partnership frameworks. South Africa certainly enjoys a very dense institutional environment. It is also a new environment - so it is too early for evaluation. However, the South African Government, led by the Ministers of Labour and Education and the Office of the Deputy President, is taking measures to ensure that the various interventions add up to a coherent people-development strategy at the end of the day.

But a coherent people-development strategy only makes sense if it can complement and strengthen a broader growth and development strategy. Building a skill base responsive to existing demand is one challenge, but laying the basis for new demand is even more vital in a society like South Africa, where there is simply inadequate demand at the moment. And if the South African economy is to rise above the status of a commodity-exporting nation, it needs to aim at greater value adding across the spectrum of survival, micro-enterprises, import-competing and exporting firms. These niches are, after all, interconnected components of the economy, not islands, as the women and children scouring for paper on the streets of Durban understand only too well.