South Africa’s unemployment rate hit a new record high of 34.9% in the third quarter of 2021, pushing unemployment beyond crisis level, says Kau Makgosa project facilitator at Economic Development Solutions.
“The government has acknowledged that current strategies need to be drastically scaled to address the extent of the problem in addition to seeking alternative approaches to building an engaged, economically active workforce.”
To combat the high unemployment rate, it will be necessary to re-introduce blue-collar skills and training development, said Makgosa. This can help the youth to acquire skills that will make them useful to employers while helping South Africa to recover economically.
Makgosa said that South Africa needs more skilled blue-collar workers like farmers, artisans and tradespeople.
For example, currently, in the mining sector and with the construction of renewable energy plants, our country has to outsource these specialised manual skills, as local specialists are few and far between.
“Skills and training development of blue-collar workers to meet such needs would be an effective way to address the high unemployment rate without job creation. Such jobs don’t need to be created – they already exist – we just need to ensure that we have the skills available locally.”
The National Development Plan aims to train 30,000 artisans a year by 2030, while the most recent government figures revealed a shortfall of 40,000 artisans in the country.
Shifting the perception of blue-collar careers
Economic Development Solutions said that encouraging technical training or entrepreneurship from an early age in school curricula can make a significant difference in unemployment numbers.
“Not everyone has what it takes to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant, or rocket scientist, and those are not the only career prospects that are high-paying or lead to success.
“Instead, there are many more opportunities for individuals to explore their own potential through gainful employment in skilled fields such as construction, renewable energy, manufacturing and mining, to name a few,” said Makgosa.
To facilitate this, artisan and technical skills training will need to be more readily available and accessible, particularly in rural areas. More accredited artisan training colleges will be needed, in addition to a proper structure that monitors these facilities with oversight from the Quality Council For Trade & Occupations to prevent illegal colleges from popping up.
“Along with Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges providing the opportunity to gain skills qualifications, there needs to be a push for companies to provide learnerships, internships and apprenticeships to deliver on-the-job skills training, along with a realistic stipend for the duration of such programs that allows the individual to cover basic living and transport costs.”
Start with what we have
To address unemployment, it will be necessary to make the most of current opportunities, as limited as they may be. For example, when renewable energy projects currently under bid move into construction, regulations require that local people must be appointed to work on these projects, said Makgosa.
This means appointing local service providers, local supplier development and skills training programs. “In this space alone, there are 12 projects under bid at risk mitigation stage which means there’s massive potential within this industry and all its supporting industries to form part of the supply chain into these projects, Makgosa noted.
“Despite delays on these projects, it is necessary to keep pushing because the minute those projects start, foreign investment will be encouraged which in turn will encourage other industries to also start investing within the supply chain of those projects. And that’s just in one industry.”
Skills must match demand
On an individual level, for young people considering their futures, it’s important to bear in mind the skills that they pursue need to be relevant to the work opportunities available and that money rarely comes without putting in the work to gain the experience first.
“On a corporate level, businesses need to think beyond BEE scorecards and box-ticking when it comes to learnerships and internships, and actually provide young jobseekers with on-the-job training that equips them for the real working world and prepares them for permanent employment.”