South Africa’s Generation Jobless

Today, there are less youth jobs in South Africa than in 2008. The newly released research note Where are the Jobs? by the Motsepe Foundation begins by painting a bleak picture of the youth of South Africa and their inclusion in the economy.  

Examining two labour market disruptions, the global financial crisis and the covid-19 pandemic, the report confirms the vulnerability of young people during periods of instability and highlights the limited job creation for youth between 2010 and 2020.

Amongst South Africa’s unemployed, 60% are younger than 34-years, with population group and educational attainment adding further labour market vulnerability.  

The research note imagines Thandi, a black, young woman with secondary education, and Andrew, an older white man with a university degree.

Thandi, at the beginning of 2008, had a 57% chance of being unemployed, while Andrew had a 4% chance of being unemployed. By the beginning of 2022, Thandi was even more likely to be unemployed, facing a 70% unemployment rate, whilst Andrew’s prospects had improved further and his chances of being jobless were close to zero.   

While the educational attainments differ between Thandi and Andrew, this shows that the labour market in South Africa has a bias towards relatively higher skilled and knowledge workers. In a technologically advancing and globally connected world, medium-skilled jobs are offshored to countries where the cost of labour is cheaper. The imbalanced demand for a highly skilled labour force is initiating a cycle of youth unemployment around the world.

In the decade between 2010 and 2020, no formal sector jobs were created for young people aged 15-29-years in South Africa. Instead, during this time, 90 000 of their jobs were lost. In total between 2008 and 2020, a larger 2.8 million jobs were created but only 8% of these jobs were for those aged 15-34-years. Worsening the youth outlook, 33% of the jobs held by those aged 15-24-years were lost during this first lockdown period in 2020, eliminating the little growth that had been achieved.

This is reiterated in the fact that 48% of job losses occurred amongst youth with secondary education not completed, followed by youth with completed secondary education (35%) and those with tertiary qualifications (16%).

The World Bank predicts that a vast majority of new jobs globally will be created by the private sector, mainly in services. During the pandemic, the bulk of job losses occurred in the private sector, implying a concurrent shift towards informalized, flexible and non-permanent work in this new tech-driven labour market.

In this shifting landscape, computer literacy and non-specific job skills, such as the ability to communicate effectively and solve problems independently, are being promoted as interventions that could improve employment outcomes. However, as more young people build their skills through training interventions, apprenticeships and online platforms, signaling these newfound skills to potential employers remains difficult.

READ the full research note and register to attend the Motsepe Foundation Information & Opportunities Expo on 28 June. The exhibition is aiming to unlock opportunities for 1 million young people over the next five years. The exhibition will do this by enabling the discovery of available resources, by facilitating direct connections to new networks and by matching skills to relevant opportunities.