Dysfunctional education system failing the youth

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Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa) has found that many learners leave the secondary phase before completing Grade 12 and the drop-out situation has a major economic impact on their future employment opportunities and career development.
While the pass rates for Grade 12s have improved to 70.2%, only 15% average a pass rate of 40% and furthermore only about 65% of learners who start Grade 1 write their matriculation examination.
According to Statistics South Africa 4.6 million people were unemployed in the first quarter of 2013, 70.7% of which were between the ages of 15 and 34 years. Fedusa found that 59.4% of the job seekers did not have matric and 65.3% of the unemployed have been looking for work for a period of 1 year or longer.
The International Labour Organisation Decent Work and Youth Report argues that people and social groups see young people as those who will be able to achieve even more than themselves. It is known that even the most impoverished invest a great deal in the education of children and youth so that they can achieve, through better jobs, a better quality of life than their parents.
This is ultimately true, and at the same time greatly concerning within the South African context, for two main reasons; one, that the quality of education available to the majority of South Africans is too low, and two, that there are too few jobs available in order to absorb the number of young people leaving matric or tertiary education and training. The National Development Plan identifies these two issues as the key challenges facing our developing nation and which perpetuate poverty, inequality and unemployment.
Fedusa is concerned that many young people would like to be employed and participate in the labour market, but having not had any success in finding jobs, have given up looking for work. Statistics South Africa indicated that the number of discouraged work seekers increased by 73 000 to approximately 2.3 million in the first quarter of 2013. This leaves the country with a significant population of young people that are not in education, employment or training, which provides the threat of disengaged, disgruntled young people resulting in possible social unrest.
Persistent youth unemployment and underemployment carry very high social and economic costs and threaten the fabric of our societies. The failure to generate sufficient decent jobs or ensure that young people are equipped to perform in such jobs through the provision of leanerships, apprenticeships, internships, could result in long-lasting scarring effects on both our young people and an unbearable strain on our health, education, and social welfare systems.

Fedusa is of the opinion that several key areas need to be urgently addressed by the social partners

Fedusa is of the opinion that several key areas need to be urgently addressed by the social partners in order to lessen this threat; to create enough labour market opportunities and to support our young people to acquire the relevant skills necessary to make them valuable contributors to our economy.
Firstly we see that in job vacancies that do exist young people are less favourable candidates due to a lack of experience in comparison to their elder counterparts. In the environment where unemployment is so high, young people are the last to be hired and the first to be fired, due to the lower contributions they are considered to make to the company, or the greater investment they require in terms of time and training to do the job at the same level of someone older.
As this is a recognised obstacle to getting young people into the labour market Fedusa believes that a targeted policy solution should be adopted to address this. A training based youth wage subsidy is one such solution that will encourage business owners to hire young people, provided that it does not displace older workers, or exploit the young people for cheap labour.
Secondly we see a skills mismatch between those qualifications young people are attaining and the necessary skills and education required for the labour market. Bearing in mind that significant deficits remain in access to and the quality of education, training and skills in South Africa, we also find that they lack relevance with regards to the labour market. It is essential that training and education institutions identify such mismatches and develop strategies alongside government to lessen these deficits and resulting effects.
Furthermore it is critical that we come to recognise the substantial role that race, location and gender play in determining the access to the functioning labour market for young people. Two thirds of young people between the ages of 16 and 29 live in the impoverished and rural former Bantustan regions, and due to previous racial policies and the impact of migrant labour a large portion of these are young, black women. Young black people are therefore trapped in areas of notoriously low access to education and employment.
Tasked with the role of unpaid domestic labour, young women in these areas face little to no chance of entering the education system, let alone the formal labour market, positioning them in a perpetual cycle of poverty.

Fedusa is of the opinion that unless we tackle such challenges in the very near future, and with real implementation and results, we will find ourselves in a dire situation where the majority of middle-aged South Africans are either completely outside of the labour market, or don’t possess the skills, and relative experience that a middle-aged worker should do to participate in the labour market in a productive and fruitful manner. This would leave many families without suitable incomes to send their own children to school or for decent healthcare.
If the plight of our young people is not dealt with urgently and with high-impact and rapid interventions, we face the chance of losing an entire generation of South African workers, and even further perpetuating the triple challenge of unemployment, inequality and poverty for a majority of our people.
Fedusa recently held provincial work sessions on the challenges of youth unemployment, and delivered a Federation resolution on combating youth unemployment. Once ratified by the National Executive Committee in July 2013, it will be made available to the public.
The resolution looks at targeted policy decisions and interventions that the Federation can adopt and undertake in order to assist in implementing concrete actions towards improving the livelihoods of our young people.

– By Opinion piece by Dennis George, Fedusa General Secretary and Lauren Uppink, FEDUSA Social Policy Officer