Youth Unemployment in South Africa
According to a report of the International Labor Organization, 71 million youth were unemployed in 2017 globally.

In South Africa, youth unemployment is particularly high and has been so for decades, with 5.5 million young people currently searching for work.

In response to high youth unemployment in South Africa, a social enterprise known as Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator was created to help connect young people seeking work with employers.

Formed in 2011 in Johannesburg, Harambee now services youth across the nation and has helped more than 50,000 young South Africans obtain their first job.

The Numbers

With 26.7 percent of the population unemployed, South Africa has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. The unemployment rate for youths, defined as those aged 15 to 34, is much higher and was estimated to be 38.2 percent in the first quarter of 2018.

South Africa has a large youth population since 63 percent of South Africans are under the age of 35. This fact further increases the impact of youth unemployment on the nation. Over 63 percent of the unemployed population is youth and each year 1.1 million South African youths enter the labor market.

Of this number, only 6 percent enter formal employment, with an additional 8 percent becoming informally employed. The remaining 86 percent either continue their education, look for jobs or become discouraged by the system.

The Reasons for Youth Unemployment

High youth unemployment in South Africa is caused by a variety of factors, including high public education drop-out rates, a lack of significant economic growth and the nation’s legacy of apartheid.

With many of the poor people still living in townships located far away from urban centers, finding work remains difficult. Even if they are qualified for certain positions, they may lack the ability to travel into the city, particularly in the face of inadequate public transportation.

Harambee Work for Youth Unemployment in South Africa

In order to provide opportunities to youths outside the city, Harambee hires recruiters who go to the townships and record contact information for young people who are searching for jobs.

From there, some youths are given an invitation to come to a Harambee office to discuss their skills and interests. A trained job coach then helps them through the process of creating a CV (biography) and preparing for job interviews. Harambee even provides free interview clothes for those unable to afford it.

Harambee has partnered with 450 employers, ranging from small businesses to large corporations. Many of these employers are looking to fill entry-level positions, providing opportunities for South African youths without any prior job experience to become employed.

When deciding on matches between employees and employers, Harambee considers the needs of the company, as well as the skills of the potential employee and their proximity to the job. Transportation costs must be considered, and if they are too high, workers may have to go into debt, in spite of being employed.

As another way of connecting with job-seeking youth in order to reduce youth unemployment in South Africa, Harambee offers an application on their website.

By filling this application, young South Africans indicate their skills and what kinds of work they are interested in, making it easier for Harambee to successfully match them with an employer.

For those who have the potential to get hired for more rigorous jobs, Harambee provides vocational training for up to eight weeks to prepare them for employment.

Since many of the youths, Harambee works with come from poor backgrounds and they often lack needed knowledge and skills, Harambee does what it can to ensure the young people will be successful upon becoming employed.

Harambee Successful Stories

One South African youth, 23-year-old Thabo Ngwato, was unemployed and had little success filling out job applications until his friend recommended Harambee to him.

Through Harambee, Ngwato found work at a call center in Johannesburg, allowing him to support his mother and nephew and purchase his first car. Ngwarto told Reuters that thanks to Harambee he now knows how to network and look for employment, which are the skills he can take anywhere.

Similarly, 29-year-old Oratile Phekoayane was hired as a Web help worker due to Harambee. The services Harambee provided helped her be less nervous in interviews and develop interpersonal skills.

According to Reuters, Phekoayane stated, “I see myself as a business partner here. I’m looking to grow, maybe join the executive side.” Due to Harambee, she was able to gain employment, develop her skills and become successful, with the potential for mobility.

Harambee is not alone in addressing youth unemployment in South Africa, however.

Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president since February 2018, has made youth unemployment a priority. Ramaphosa has worked to convince companies to reinvest 1.5 percent of their profits into providing paid work experience to young South Africans.

Currently, Harambee has a goal of helping at least 10,000 young South Africans find employment each year. By 2022, they want to match 500,000 young people with employers, requiring a significant increase in the number of youths they help become employed each year.

Harambee’s success and continuous growth, however, indicate that this goal may be attainable. And even if it is not achieved, Harambee will still have made a significant impact on reducing youth unemployment in South Africa, providing a model for other organizations in the country.

– Sara Olk

Photo: Flickr