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What Is The Future Of Work In South Africa?

SA's unemployment rate has been a ticking time bomb for some time.

01/05/2017 12:14 SAST | Updated 14/06/2017 12:33 SAST
Rogan Ward/ Reuters

According to the Global Competitiveness Index, we rank 107th in labour market efficiency, 50th in technological readiness, 33rd in business sophistication and 38th in innovation. This is a clear indication of the work that needs to be done by all South Africans to ensure that we curb the rise of unemployment and help boost our economy by taking the necessary steps to seeing the numbers drop.

World Economic Forum

The unemployment rate amongst graduates is 7,0 percent. If there is continual discussion around what has been done from a policy point of view, what good is that if policy implementation is an epic fail? Not only are these individuals out of work, but they are also in debt, because their studies have racked up a hefty bill as a result of their studies. The question then becomes, if this is where we are now, what will happen later?

Our country's unemployment rate has been a ticking time bomb for quite some time now and inasmuch as it has declined by a fraction last year, our stats aren't looking so hot. According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the fourth quarter of 2016 the unemployment rate declined by 0,6 of a percentage point, quarter-to-quarter, to 26,5 percent. However, as documented by Statistics South Africa, this number is still 2,0 percentage points higher compared to the same period in 2015. So there is definitely progress here, but just not enough as year on year we find that we are caught in the same web of real life hunger games.

Employment increased in three industries last year by 18,000, from the period between September 2016 to December 2016; these aforementioned industries are trade, business services and manufacturing. This is a great feat, however the following industries - community services, construction, mining and transport - saw no such luck as these industries saw decreases ranging from 0.2 percent to 3.0 percent.

South Africa's unemployment rate has been a headache for quite some time now, with many people finding themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. There have been many suggestions from government as to how this issue can be dealt with, with the government promising more decent job creation. The government's efforts have been to create six million work opportunities by 2019, most of these jobs however, are contractual jobs which do not essentially solve the unemployment problem.

The group affected the most by unemployment is the youth, as individuals enrol in tertiary institutions and believe that at the end of their three or four year studies, they will be taken into he workforce and be able to live the lives which they have been told are guaranteed by obtaining a qualification, yet this has not been the case.

The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) upon launching had a vision of "creating a world – class developmental agency that empowers all South Africa's youth socially and economically for a better life". Their belief is embedded in the premise that youth-owned businesses have the ability to create jobs and to further boost the South African economy by giving the youth the means with which to be self reliant and to expand existing businesses that are owned by the youth. There is funding available for youth enterprises by the NYDA in collaboration with the Industrial Corporation Development (IDC) and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa) to ensure that these dreams are actualised.

On the other hand we have graduates who have completed their studies and yet some of them are still living at home, filling out job applications daily. Others have even opted to go forth and study further as a means to keep busy and not become redundant. As a result, these individuals find themselves being overqualified for entry level jobs because they have an honours or a masters qualification but are found lacking in work experience. The problem is systemic.

Today is an apt day to be having conversations about the realities we face in the country regarding unemployment, job creation and jobs expectations. As we observe this day which is entrenched in the continuous plight of ensuring that workers rights are heard and that working conditions are conducive to healthy work environments.

We should also be thinking about solutions based strategies around labour legislation, inequality and socio-economic factors that hold employees back in the workplace. As workers of the world unite, we need to ask ourselves pertinent questions about the direction we are taking as a workforce in ensuring that we establish a culture of workers rights that are intersectional and inclusive of all.

What is the future of work in South Africa hinged on? Perhaps a good place to start would be to encourage students to shift their perspective of going to school with the outlook of being a job seeker; but that perhaps they should go to school with a set goal of creating jobs once they are done with their studies.

It is clear that there is an influx of graduates in the world of work each year and the reality is that there just aren't enough jobs for the lot of individuals graduating each year. Therefore there is a need for an emphasis on entrepreneurship and venture capital and the passion for this needs to be honed before an individual gets to high school. Perhaps then we will be able to see a dynamic change in the numbers of unemployment within the country.

It is equally evident that education plays an important role in the labour market outcome, however the need for practical skills is just as important. Ensuring that students are exposed from a young age to basic entrepreneurial skills and basic business planning processes is definitely one of the ways in which we can help take South Africa forward.

For those already in the workforce, there should be upskilling and training to ensure that individuals are well equipped to handle the pressures in their work environments but that they are also continually learning and growing beyond the scope of their job descriptions. This way it will be a win-win situation, both for the company and the individuals working for them. It may seem like we are going nowhere slowly, but if we all pull together, and do our bit to contribute to the economy, then we will surely see a turnaround.

*In a previous version, this article stated According to the Global Competitiveness Index, we rank 7th in labour market efficiency, 9th in technological readiness, 11th in business sophistication and 12th in innovation. This has since been corrected.