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Opinion piece: Desperation to Hope: How TES Suppliers and the YES Initiative Can Address South Africa’s Youth Unemployment Crisis

By Quintus Sliep, Managing Director at Worldwide Staffing

South Africa has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. In the first quarter of 2023, the unemployment rate for people aged 25-34 was 39.1%, which means that for every 100 young people in this age group, only 61 are employed. Such a staggering unemployment rate can be attributed to a few factors including global uncertainty, an economic downturn, and a growing mismatch between skills and demand. Although our government has taken several steps to address youth unemployment, it is critical that every business, industry, and sector acknowledge that we all have a role to play in turning the tide on this growing crisis. Temporary Employment Services (TES) providers can play a key role in facilitating the integration of young people across sectors, through skills and development initiatives that focus on training and equipping the future of the workforce for every industry.

Quintus Sliep

Crisis control from the top down

The youth unemployment crisis has several negative consequences for young people, their families and the country, perpetuating cycles of poverty, leading to increased crime and contributing to social unrest. The South African government has taken a few steps to address the youth unemployment crisis, such as the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), which is a government agency responsible for the promotion of youth development through skills development programmes, entrepreneurship programmes, and job placement programmes. 

The Youth Employment Service (YES) is a programme that provides young people with 12-month work opportunities to gain work experience, develop skills, and improve their chances of finding permanent employment. Additionally, this is underpinned by the Employment Tax Incentive (ETI), a government tax incentive to encourage businesses to hire young people, providing businesses with a tax rebate and B-BBEE points for every young person they hire.

Social responsibility meets business opportunity.

Despite these efforts, the youth unemployment crisis in South Africa remains a serious problem, strongly suggesting the social responsibility that lies in the private sector industries to take action and actively advocate for youth employment. In doing so, businesses can play a critical role in addressing the injustices of the past and building a more equitable society, while reaping commercial benefits such as improved operational performance, enhanced business reputation and ensuring the future sustainability of the skills and labour necessary for commerce.

Stepping up: activating through TES suppliers

TES suppliers occupy a unique position in the labour market, ideally positioned to engage with all relevant stakeholders to address the youth unemployment crisis. Located between employers and employees, within reach of various government youth development initiatives and the education sector, TES providers can act as a catalyst and conduit for change.

Accessing skills and employment possibilities

TES suppliers can also help with job placement assistance, albeit temporarily. This can help young people gain work experience and develop skills that can make them more competitive in the job market. Actively assisting young job seekers in gaining work experience, makes it easier to find suitable employment opportunities, and contributes to reducing unemployment rates. From a young job-seekers perspective, TES suppliers are a means to access training programs and upskilling opportunities that can enhance individual employability. This can help fill the gap between the demand and supply of the skills needed to revitalise the South African economy, equipping job seekers with the necessary skills for current and future job demands. This can be amplified by working with employers, organising job fairs, or establishing partnerships with educational institutions.

Making an impact across the public and private sector

Both TES suppliers and the YES Initiative can work directly with businesses in their specific industries to create more employment opportunities for young people, leaning on businesses with financial incentives to hire young people, or helping businesses develop new skills training programmes for young people. By working together, TES suppliers and organisations such as the YES Initiative can provide young people with work experience, develop skills and improve their chances of finding permanent employment through intensive 12-month programmes. From an employer perspective, TES suppliers can offer flexible workforce solutions that enable companies to scale their workforce size and composition in response to fluctuating demands. This flexibility can help businesses optimise costs while still providing work opportunities to individuals who may otherwise struggle to find full-time employment. Furthermore, TES suppliers can maintain a diverse pool of workers and skills, including young individuals, which can be beneficial for businesses. Employers can use this pool to address immediate staffing needs, access specialist skills, or manage temporary workload fluctuations.

Impact at every level of society

Such collaboration with the YES initiative, government entities, and other stakeholders involved in youth employment programs will build strong partnerships allowing for the sharing of resources, knowledge, and best practices, ultimately enhancing the impact and reach of youth-focused initiatives. Additionally, TES suppliers can help to drive youth employment and skills development in South Africa by actively seeking to collaborate with educational institutions to provide young people with the skills they need to succeed in the workforce. This could include providing access to training in high-demand skills or helping young people to develop their soft skills, such as communication and teamwork. TES providers can also create awareness of the benefits of hiring young people, including sharing success storeys of companies that have hired young people or providing information on the skills and talents that young people can offer.

Cultivating Hope and Sustainability

Continued monitoring of South Africa’s unemployment statistics, especially among the youth, is crucial to evaluate the effectiveness of all measures. Despite post-pandemic obstacles, the adaptability and resilience of the South African workforce continue to shine through. TES suppliers can play an active role in turning desperation into hope, by supporting businesses with flexible employment solutions, and offering training and placement assistance to job seekers, while collaborating with government and education organisations to empower the youth and combat unemployment in a meaningful way.