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Policy Conversation: Rethinking Youth Unemployment

In April 2016, Youth Lab, in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, hosted a Policy Conversation at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. Teaming up with the university branches of the Black Management Forum, the Association for the Advancement of Black Accountants in South Africa and the Black Lawyers Association, the discussion centred on the need to reimagine youth unemployment in thinking about solutions to the problem. More than 3 million youth in South Africa are unemployed, according to StatsSA. Part of this challenge lies in the fact that many youth are unskilled and lack the networks required to penetrate the job market. This conversation aimed to gain insight into the employment-seeking strategies used by young people, the ways in which these can be innovated, the exploration of entrepreneurship as a viable option as well as a discussion around different youth livelihood strategies and how these can be leveraged.

The discussion took the form of a debate. Participants were placed into teams based on which employment solution they thought would best solve the unemployment problem in South Africa. The options were: government, the private sector, entrepreneurship, SMME’s and livelihood strategies. Each team took turns presenting arguments as to why the solution they chose was best suited to address youth unemployment. Some of these arguments included the need for the government to provide more skills-based programmes for young people both in and out of tertiary education, in order to enable them to be better suited for the job market. Another team argued that the private sector needs to be held accountable for not employing more young people and not providing young employees with opportunities for growth. A frequent discussion was around entrepreneurship and the need for greater support for young, black business owners, from the ideation phase to the actual operations phase. At the end of the discussion, participants agreed that each solution faces challenges and that we need to work towards integrating each of these solutions in ways that can maximise value for the stakeholders involved, but can also create successful employment trajectories for young people.

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