In his maiden state of the nation address (Sona), President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted youth unemployment as one of South Africa's most grave and pressing challenges; he stressed the importance of drawing the youth into productive economic activity and committed to moving young South Africans to the centre of the country's economic ecosystem. Thank you, Mr President.
Prioritising youth unemployment is absolutely fundamental and just one of the many ways of moving our country forward – that and rooting out corruption, of course. I was pleasantly surprised and relieved when during his Sona the president also said that government, in partnership with private sector organisations, is working to create opportunities for young people.
These opportunities involve exposing the youth to the working world and what it entails, through learnerships, internships, mentorship programmes and apprenticeships. We've been waging the unemployment war for too long now, and as we enter the 24th year of our country's democracy, we need to work harder to win this battle.
While I do acknowledge the good news – youth unemployment decreased during the third quarter of last year from 55.90 percent to 52.20 percent – it's not nearly enough to make the dent the economy so desperately needs in order to grow.
But how do we turn it around for our country's youth and grow the economy in the process? As the president said, and I agree, we need to expose them to programmes that involve working and learning at the same time. Learnerships are one way of plugging this gap. In simple speak, Learnerships are structured programmes in which a learner engages in theoretical and practical learning.
When employers upskill, organisations grow, and this is exactly what we need to move our country forward and see the change we so desperately need.
In other words, it's on-the-job training and the value is endless. It gives potential young learners the opportunity to enter the job market and appeal to current and future employers. It also provides them with a fixed-term contract and a monthly stipend for the duration of the programme, as well as training in scarce-skills areas and areas of national significance that our nation is crying out for.
In fact, this should be considered as a valuable alternative postmatric study option, especially for those out there who find higher education institutions unaffordable. That said, introducing workplace learning should be seen as a unified effort. We need forward-thinking organisations to come onboard and work in partnership with institutions of learning to deliver the learnerships needed to benefit both the organisation and the learner.
Learnerships give the learner the opportunity to enter the job market for on-the-job training, and give the employer the opportunity to grow and develop employees in areas where the organisation needs it most. In addition to that, there's an added business advantage to this type of learning.
Since government made skills development a priority element on the B-BBEE scorecard, employers are urged to put employees through learnership training programmes and in turn benefit from tax rebates. Let's be honest – it's a win-win situation. Learnerships are highly beneficial for the learners and the organisation.
We need to keep in mind that it's a two-pronged process – when employers upskill, organisations grow, and this is exactly what we need to move our country forward and see the change we so desperately need.