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Addressing youth unemployment in South Africa

Africa has the youngest population in the world; already, there are nearly 200 million Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 years and this figure looks set to double in thirty years’ time.

Africa’s economy is also expanding rapidly. However, economic growth and education are not keeping pace with the rising young population. This means that many nations on the continent – such as Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and South Africa – are suffering from high unemployment. The problem is not helped by the large numbers of youngsters in some countries with no qualifications. In South Africa, for example, over half of 18-24 year-olds are outside of education, training or employment, with many having left school without any qualifications.

But even when youngsters have a secondary and tertiary education, they often find themselves unemployed. According to a recent African Economic Outlook report, this can be the result of a mismatch between the skills young Africans have to offer and those which employers need.

An IRIN article this week highlights the work of the Rockefeller Foundation in helping young Africans find jobs in modern-day industries. The Foundation has recently launched Digital Jobs Africa, a seven-year initiative which aims to provide job opportunities and skills training for young people in digital sectors. With an eye on the future labour market, the programme focuses on helping youngsters find work in areas such as information and communications technology industries.

The Foundation sponsors companies to take on disadvantaged youngsters in the six African countries mentioned above. So for example, in South Africa, they have provided a grant to a training and job placement company in Johannesburg. Here, youngsters train in a fully-functional call centre while gaining the necessary practical experience to give them a foothold in the jobs market. As well as learning the skills to be a call centre agent, the youngsters are also encouraged to complete part-time studies to improve their knowledge or work qualifications.

Once these graduates become employed and start earning a decent salary, they are then asked to fund another student from a deprived background. With this model, the training academy is over two-thirds self-funded, though it has plans to be completely self-funding in the future. Speaking to IRIN, the head of the academy described the involvement of the Rockefeller Foundation in helping to train unemployed youngsters as “a massive opportunity” for South Africa and an excellent way of helping to “bring a family out of poverty and put them on a whole new trajectory”.

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