Last week at the United Nations, the Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, spoke about the danger of high youth unemployment on the continent. She warned that unless Africa’s growing and increasingly educated young population can find work and improve their lives, nations would suffer.
People don’t need to be social experts to understand that persistent joblessness leads to a growing sense of frustration among the young. It is also a major factor in high rates of poverty and crime. In some urban areas of South Africa, widespread unemployment is also adding to a growing drug and gang culture.
A new regional scheme has been launched in the Western Cape which provides six-month work placements for unemployed youngsters and where companies get paid for taking on young workers. Though the young people only receive a very basic monthly wage of 1,200 rand (equivalent to about 85 pounds), it’s hoped that the skills they learn will allow them to find permanent jobs once their placement ends.
Speaking to the BBC’s reporter, one youngster in Cape Town spoke about his frustration while he was “stuck at home waiting” for work. Even though he’d left school with good exam results, the twenty-one year-old had struggled to find a job and he couldn’t afford to pay for any further education or training. Now he has just finished his placement in a rigging company which operates in the construction and oil sector and he has been kept on by the firm. Finally in work, the young man says “I have a career head of me now”, unlike many of his friends who are still without work years after leaving school.
So far, around 3,000 young people have been through the ‘Work and Skills’ programme since it was launched in the Western Cape three years ago. While the national political establishment and unions aren’t in favour of this kind of youth wage subsidy, firms taking part in the scheme and the youngsters involved have generally found it a very positive experience. With a skills shortage in many sectors, companies say it allows them to find suitable young workers. And for the youngsters themselves, the scheme is seen as a way to establish a foothold on the work ladder. Without this kind of programme or other similar initiatives, one politician warns that the “whole system” in the country could be put at risk from a growing number of restless young people “without hope or opportunity”.