By Erica Kempken, Director of youth@WORK
The lack of adequate skills and education among South African youth has far-reaching implications, including high unemplo
yment rates, limited economic opportunities, and social inequality. This crisis is multifaceted and complex, and addressing it requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses various aspects of education, employment, and social development. Despite progress in access to basic education in recent years, quality remains a major concern. Many schools, particularly those in low-income communities, lack adequate resources, infrastructure, and overstretched teachers, resulting in subpar educational outcomes. As a result, many South African youth graduate from school without acquiring the necessary mindset, life skills and knowledge to succeed in the workforce. Another contributing factor is the mismatch between the skills demanded by the job market and those possessed by South African youth. Rapid technological advancements and changes in the global economy have led to shifts in the demand for skills. Key statistics from a new report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise reveal that after a year of schooling more than 50% of Grade 1 learners do not know all the letters in the alphabet. South Africa’s Grade 9 learners – on a test designed for Grade 8s – placed (second last) in mathematics proficiency and last place (in
science proficiency out of 39 participating countries. Close on eighty percent of Grade 4 learners could not read for meaning in any language. It would not be helpful to get into a political debate over these statistics suffice it to agree with the Centre’s key takeout that our education system is not adequately addressing a steadily increasing skills shortage. Solutions of course cannot rely solely on government and to make any dent in youth skills development and unemployment we must also use the private sector and foster partnerships with existing NGOs in the education sector to consolidate methods and broaden reach. Young South Africans (aged 15- 34) make up just over 36% of the total population of our country and youth should be the engine of our economy, society, and democracy, but with the elevated levels of unemployment youth engagement in economic development is low. From an economic perspective it is in the private sector’s best interests to invest in skills shortages from an early age and executives are finally starting to take note. In his recent delivery of Capitec’s financial results, CEO Gerrie Fourie chose not to unpack issues like the power crisis and Transnet, in favour of discussing South Africa’s skills shortage as an equally significant, but less prioritised problem in recent discourse. He is quoted as saying “If we want to be a successful country, we need to invest in our education. We cannot have a 30% Matric pass rate”. youth@WORK is 100% women owned organisation with a plan to do exactly that and we have just launched our youthPROFILER
solution – an online digital assessment tool that identifies gaps in numeracy and literacy and provides targeted solutions to bridge these gaps. Our goal is to extend the reach of youthPROFILER to as many schools in South Africa as possible and we can only do this through corporate sponsorship and partnerships with other organisations in the education sector. By making a dent in the skills shortage, we are not only assisting individual learners in preparing for meaningful employment after schooling. We are ensuring that young South Africans have the right foundations to develop solutions to the other crises we face. Education is a key driver of change for financial emancipation of youth and partnership is our best solution. Unquestionably, unless we get more children to choose core maths and science as matric subjects and command language skills, we will continue to have slow economic growth in South Africa. A lack of skilled workers can hinder economic growth and development, as businesses require a skilled workforce to remain competitive in the global economy. Additionally, youth unemployment can strain social welfare systems, increase crime rates, and contribute to social unrest, leading to negative societal consequences. I strongly believe that ensuring access to quality education for all South African youth, regardless of their socio-economic background, is not only crucial but fundamental to reducing inequality and creating of a more equal, peaceful, productive and happy society.