Educated but Unemployed in South Africa: Where are the Jobs?

The commoditization of our universities and the policies of mass recruitment of new students are alarming with limited institution to accommodate the mass numbers of learners from secondary schools to tertiary institutions and into the labour market. With the cohorts of graduating students entering the job market, the unexpected precariousness of job opportunities has given rise to relatively divergent viewpoints within the government’s ranks and the world of education at large.

In reading history I came to the understanding that the word “unemployment” got it importance from the great depression days in United States and since then the governments started giving importance to the unemployment rates in the country and this understanding was exported across the world from North America to Europe and Africa.

“If the people are unemployed, there is bound to be social unrest in the state and even those who are employed are in constant strikes for wage hikes in other to meet with up the high rise in the cost of living due to the wavering economic trends that is presently affecting the world’s economy.”

Governments in general do not want social unrest so invariably the pressure is on them to create new jobs to match with the rising number of graduates from tertiary institutions into the labour market.

It is natural that they try to find some solution to this problem of unemployment but at the same time finding the cause and addressing it is eminent in other not to have a repeat for the coming generation and university graduates.

The main cause of unemployment in South Africa is obvious to everybody with tons of forces we can all attest to. But for clarity we will stick to the present causes and at the same time, the history of the country cannot be forgotten especially when it relates to the black African workforce as they were deprived of better and good education to compete with their white compacts due to the apartheid system in place.

In staying abreast with the modern economy and the present trend globally, the South African economy, like many other economies is on the path of a natural development, whereby a structural shift in production towards more skill and capital-intensive industries. The pressure to become technologically more advanced and the effects of increased global competition have further increased the demand for high-skilled workers at the cost of low-skilled workers.

I am of the opinion that in context to Africa, we need to create jobs that are relatively significant to our present needs within the continent and trained our students in that direction so that when they graduate there are available jobs waiting for them to further explore and perfect their skills on.

The unemployment problem in South Africa can be described as structural in nature, given that there appears to be an ongoing, almost intractable, mismatch between the types of workers demanded by firms and those supplied in the labour market. It is, therefore, understandable that the South African unemployment is most prevalent among poorly educated, low-skilled workers, mostly blacks. Within the context of increased demand for skilled workers and reported skills shortages the phenomenon of rising graduate unemployment is worrying.

According to a March 2006 research report compiled for Business Leadership South Africa, funded by Standard Bank, the report shows that: almost 71% of the unemployed (broad definition) have a Grade 11 or lower qualification. Matriculants make up 26% of the unemployed. Tertiary qualified people, including people with post-matric diplomas, technical qualifications and university degrees make up less than 3% of the unemployed. This represents about 200 000 people out of 7.8 million unemployed people in South Africa.”

The report also state that less than one in five of the tertiary unemployed hold degrees. In contrast, 82% of tertiary unemployed persons hold diplomas. The majority of these people are Africans (Blacks) and the unemployment rate among Africans (Blacks) with diplomas is also much higher than that of the other racial groups.

As compared to China which is the world’s second largest economy, and the most populous nation in the world, the work force population is very large and it is difficult for the government to find jobs for the youths that are entering the job market.

In 2004 the estimation was that fifteen million young people will enter the job market and only about eight million jobs were expected to be created in that year. It was assumed that the growth rate will be around 7% at that time. It was obvious that eight million people were going to remain unemployed in spite of impressive growth rate of the economy.

In India such as the IT industry was a major driving force for the faster growth and providing employment opportunities to many. The IT, BPO industry created history of providing lot many jobs for the young generation. There was trickling effect of the growth of these industries. The new middle class was created by these IT and BPO industries. There was an unprecedented demand for the goods and services by this new middle class. This created a fast growing economy and market. All this created lot many more income opportunities. The Indians had a large pool of young people proficient in English language which is also an advantage for business internationally. The Chinese never had any English peaking work force. “This was the major cause of their set back in these industries.” If the Chinese had good English speaking work force their unemployment rate would have gone down dramatically. I feel that the ever increasing population and lack of the English speaking work force are the two major causes of unemployment in china.

India is facing an unemployment problem by the youths due to the recent rise in the population and inefficient labour markets. Labour laws may not be affecting overall growth but are influencing where jobs are created and amplifying the substitution of labour with capital. A majority of the Indian workforce does not have marketable skills. According to a report by Ministry of Labour and Employment, in the urban area, only about 19.6% of male and 11.2% of female workers have marketable skills. In the rural areas, the percentage of workforce with marketable skills was even lower: about 10% for male and 6.3% for female.

About 80% of job-seekers in employment exchange are without any professional skill.  While India boasts of a large young population, only 5% of the Indian labour force in the age group 20-24 have any vocational skills obtained through formal training (as compared to the industrialized countries, where the figure varies between 60% and 80% – in case of Korea, it is 94%).

Many firms have lost skills in the last decade due to emigration, South Africa for instance has been hit hard by this trend while poaching by competitors is widespread due to general shortages of managers and more experienced workers. As a result recruitment continues to focus heavily on attracting skills at a premium. This raises the issue of identifying scarce skills.

There is a perception among employers that current educational subsidies are causing institutions to focus on enrolling large numbers of students and not on the quality of education. Related to the skills deficit is the issue of a lack of soft skills. Many firms felt that graduates lacked soft skills such as communication and general language skills (especially in English), which caused them to be unsuccessful in interviews. Often students are not ready for the workplace emotionally and struggle to adapt to a corporate environment.

This leaves me with the question of why is there so much qualified and educated youth’s unemployment everywhere in South Africa and the continent at large? The floor is yours – let’s discuss proactive solutions.

@dantebello on Twitter

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One Response to “Educated but Unemployed in South Africa: Where are the Jobs?”

  1. Very well thought out and well written article. The model of education and the way businesses are run in South Africa were largely inherited from Europe. Since television we also follow the example set to us by the predominant American Tv we get to watch here in South Africa. Currently Brittain is having economic and problems and so is America. Both resulting in job losses and a inability to create enough new jobs.

    The line through this all is that we followed the example of the US and UK to jump from manufacturing straight into being consumers. Worse in South Africa our manufacturing never really matured, we just jumped straight into becoming consumers. Examples of this are our large and mature services industry comprising of Banks, Insurance companies, IT, digital Tv (inaccessable to most of the population) and shopping malls. This is a complete mismatch of an unskilled workforce with industries that requires highly skilled workers.

    I stated my view in very simple terms and I am sure that there is a lot more one can write to motivate it. The solution is complex, but lies in tow areas. First government should channel tax money into the manufacturing and farming industries creating jobs for unskilled workers. Our current factories can be upgraded to produce more, new ones shluld be started up. Farming should be modernised and made more productive.

    At the same time the education system must be overhauled. In order to produce the type of skills required by the workforce our education system must be lifted out of the dark ages. Technology should be used to teach at school level. If it is continued to ignore the Internet and make it accessible to only the priveledged, the schooling system will continute to produce juts a few priviledged school leavers.

    Would like to get your input on my ideas.

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