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Just a couple of months back we welcomed thousands more new graduates in our academia. One of the most beautiful and exhilarating moments for many students in higher education. Their achievements have indeed put smiles on their long faces who have put up with the difficulties of long hours of studying in cold, hot and windy days. The sheer joy in the hearts of parents around the country was exhilarating. Higher education department congratulated some of the outstanding pupil who came out of tertiary institutions with cumlaudes. Surely this is a good story to tell in celebrating 20 years of freedom right?

Let me take you back in my life just 3 years ago.

At 22, early months of 2011 I was working at my university’s Library on Sundays just to make some few extra bucks whilst applying for an internship to graduate in September. I made couple of bucks that were not enough but I was never broke. June I got an internship with a marketing and left the tertiary job. I was young, ambitious and fresh in the team in the company.

September came, I graduated with my fellow class mates. The feeling of now being officially recognized by the institution that I was a ‘web developer’ was amazing and I knew that in just 6 months I was to earn R15k before deductions. Who in his/her early 20’s wouldn’t be excited about that anyway? 20th of September I witnessed parents from all walks of South Africa get off City to City buses with traditional apparels ululating in their praise for their children’s achievements. I heard one parent from Limpopo saying “Tlala e fedile” i.e. “No more hunger.”

Hope filled the hearts of the many parents who’ve raised their children in poverty. They’ve spent their last savings and even made credit just to see this day and moving forward. Not even a single person I saw on that day was worried about what tomorrow holds. Fast-forward to today I would like to paint a real picture of what that ‘tomorrow’ actually holds:

  • Over 70% of the people I was in the same class with are skilled, educated, but unemployed;
  • The skills they’ve obtained are no longer useful in the industry of their specialisation;
  • Many of them have used over innumerable amount of data sending out their CVs to recruitment companies for employment;
  • 90% of them are in debts with study loans (not to mention the many times they’ve went to the loan sharks for money to go to interviews).

Not much of a good story hey? What could be wrong? Are we ready to blame the education ministers for creating graduates but not employees and employers? Let’s talk statistics.

According to Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey results, under the current leadership, the official unemployment rate in South Africa is now up at 25.6%. This compares with 25.2% in Q1 2013, and 24.9% a year-ago. Clearly, the latest unemployment reading is very disappointing despite the rise in employment, suggesting that South Africa is still struggling to gain meaningful traction in the labour market. At 25.6%, the unemployment rate is extremely high by global standards. Importantly, 70% of SA’s unemployed are younger than 35, while the unemployment rate among people aged less than 25 is over 50%. The unemployment rate among graduates is recorded at only 5.2%, reflecting the fact that education is vital to growing employment (See ).

My fear about the current education system is that it is creating more unemployable graduates and 2 real entrepreneurs out of 10 each year. I’m taken aback by some words of Sir Ken Robinson whom in one of his presentations said “the current education system is designed for industrialisation, so young people are still hypnotized to believe that after secondary schooling, you go to tertiary to become a graduate that’s going to help with production instead of leading production.”

Where I live, graduates sit at corners of their streets whilst some chose to gallivant throughout the rest of the day because there is no work for them. You’d be expecting that at 10 o’clock in the morning such educated young people to be at work or at least at internet café’s applying for posts but they are left helpless and resorted to unproductive activities. Sadly I’ve witnessed many of them stay home for over 5 years without employment. As a result, young people are demotivated and feel dis-empowered to even do anything. I would also give up if I was constantly spending thousands of rands just seeking for an internship that will remunerate me R2,5K per month.

Being youth, I’ve learned that we’re very impatient. Trust me, it’s in our nature. Saying to a young person “you’ll get a smart phone 2015” in a fast-moving country like ours is really frustrating. Young people are addicted to speed. They want things to work quickly and on time. We are not so patient, however if you give us your word on when exactly on the ‘not so long future’ how they will be assisted, then you’ve won us. I’ve been to many gatherings talking about 2030 as if there’s some miracle we are going to see. 2030 is too far for the majority of the population. What about now?

Looking into 2015, can things change for the better? Does our government have feasible solutions to actually combat unemployment, specifically in the youth or are we still going to say the same thing come December 2015? Are we still going to see educated young people push each other on long queues applying for EPWP jobs? Are we still going to have young people who are educated but broke and unemployed?

I fear..

Thabang Phala

Thabang Phala is an award-winning development practitioner, business consultant, brand strategist, facilitator and thought leader with industry experience spanning over 11 years.

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