New research shows why graduates can’t find work in South Africa

 ·7 Jun 2022

Despite decades of initiatives to encourage more youth employment and upskilling, the government has largely failed in its plans to absorb South Africans into the workforce.

This is one of the key findings of a new report on South Africa’s universities and other higher education institutions gazetted for public comment on Monday (6 June).

The 249-page report, which was compiled by academics and officials, pointed to a range of issues in the current higher education sector, particularly in preparing workers for the country’s labour market.

“Given the country’s prevailing socio-economic challenges of high and enduring unemployment, widening inequality and worsening poverty, there is also enormous pressure for the post-school education and training system to respond far more effectively to current and future labour needs and appropriate areas of economic development,” the researchers said.

“In this regard, implementation of the goals of the National Development Plan requires the development of a projection of what the labour market would or should be – and not what the current one displays.”

The report pointed to South Africa’s ‘perennial flaw’ of finding very apt titles for its socio-economic development programmes, but not following through with their stated intentions.

Some of these projects include:

  • Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP);
  • Growth, Employment and Redistribution Programme (GEAR);
  • Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative (ASGISA),
  • Radical Economic Transformation; and
  • New Economic Dawn.

According to the researchers, each of these programmes reflected the inequalities and polarisations of the inherited system and failed to consistently achieve their aspirational titles.

“Based on this analysis, South Africa could be confronted with a scenario of failure despite the best of intentions,” the researchers said.

“The primary issue here, in our view, is not the employability or non-employability of research-savvy graduates, but the disappointing failure in absorbing their creativity within small, medium and micro enterprises, universities, research entities and SOEs.

“Both the RDP and GEAR envisioned, in opposing ideological ways, a full-employment scenario with economic sectors that were globally competitive and with the accelerating numbers of small and medium enterprises mopping up the unemployment and informal sector maladies of the labour market.

“Instead, informal economic activity and high and enduring unemployment define much of our contemporary reality despite, on the face of it, ample interventions.”

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