Experts say higher levels of education can reduce South Africa’s high youth unemployment rate.  

South Africa’s official unemployment rate decreased by 0,6 percentage point, in the second quarter of 2022, leaving the unemployment rate at 33.9% — despite this measly improvement, scores of South African youths still remain without jobs. 

According to Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, the youth unemployment rate, which looks at people aged 18 to 34 years, decreased from 47,8% to 46,5% — with only 370 000 of them having found work between April and June of 2022. Stats SA’s media release said that “results continue to show that youth remain vulnerable in the labour market.”  

According to Wits University economics lecturer, Gareth Roberts (40), the solution is better quality education, which will improve productivity, enhance economic growth and reduce unemployment.  

“One of the main reasons unemployed youths are less productive is because the education system is very poor in South Africa,” he said, “Often, higher qualifications are just a signal of potential productivity, and not of the actual human capital (i.e., knowledge) a youth has.” 

South Africa’s second quarter unemployment rate can be dissected by education level, with only 2,4% of the unemployed populous being university graduates. This is down 0,4 percentage points from the previous quarter. 

Pie graph adapted from Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey Quarter 2: 2022

Kemiso Wessie (22), a 2021 Wits honours in journalism graduate, found employment as an academic intern at the Wits centre for journalism in July 2022. She felt discouraged while seeking employment due to the country’s low youth employment rate.  

Wessie said that she found it difficult to know “exactly what employers are actually looking for… what they need and what you need to provide to make you worth considering”. She added that most of her graduating class are still seeking employment. 

In 2014, the South African government implemented the Employment Tax Incentive (ETI), an incentive to encourage firms to hire the youth. The incentive’s values increased from March 1, 2022, however, “the scientific evidence we have is that the ETI had little to no effect on youth employment,” said Roberts. 

One reason for this, he said, was that the time limit for ETI failed to attract firms’ investment “in longer term projects that absorbed labour”. “The reality is that structural changes to the economy in South Africa are the main reason unemployment is so high,” added Roberts. 

South Africa has one of the highest youth unemployment rates globally, said Roberts, it will continue to show an increasing trend “in the years to come, even if there is some movement up and down”. 

Youth unemployment is up 2,3 percentage points from the same quarter last year, as shown in the bar graph below. 

Bar graph: Tannur Anders

Roberts said, “highly skilled youth prefer to work as highly paid employees in the private or public sectors rather than start a risky business”. 

The university’s Wits Entrepreneurship Clinic, launched in May 2022, aims to encourage youth businesses in the university’s surrounding environment and elsewhere by inspiring entrepreneurship, said Robert Venter (48), senior lecturer in the school of business science. 

This is achieved by firstly giving student clinicians the ability to gain valuable business skills, making them more marketable to employers after graduating. Secondly, the clinic helps entrepreneurs “[accelerate their] businesses”, said Venter. 

The marketability of Wits graduates appears to be correct. Wessie thinks that her qualification gave her an advantage when seeking employment through the internships she was given, which enabled her to network and demonstrate her skills. 

FEATURED IMAGE: The sign of a young, unemployed man asks for help amidst 46,5% youth unemployment in South Africa. Photo: Tannur Anders