Context: Statistics South Africa estimated the country’s youth (15-34 years) unemployment rate at slightly less than 37 per cent in the first quarter of 2015. This was compared to 17 per cent for adults (35-64 years), implying that the youth were two times more likely to be unemployed as compared to adults. If the discouraged young job seekers were added, the youth unemployment rate increased to 44 per cent. In the first quarter of 2016, unemployment rate among the 15-24 year olds was 55 per cent compared to 50 per cent in 2015. The youth unemployment rates have increased tremendously from 33 per cent in 2008. The significant increase in youth unemployment is partly attributed to the doubling in the proportion of the discouraged job seekers from 4 per cent in 2008 to 8 per cent by 2016. It is also estimated that of the 10.2 million young people between the ages of 15-24 years, 33 per cent are not in employment, education or training (NEET). In terms of age cohort, the proportion of the youth who are NEET remains low for 15-17 year olds but rises quite dramatically for 18-25 year olds, peaking at 51 per cent for 21-25 and 42 per cent for 30-34 year olds. South Africa’s youth with less education are also more likely to be NEET. Fifty eight per cent of young people aged 21-25 years who, for example, have not completed secondary education are NEET while for those with some post-secondary only 36 per cent are NEET. In terms of gender disaggregation, 36 per cent of young women aged 15-24 years are NEET compared to 30 per cent for men. This means that young women are more vulnerable to unemployment than young men, and are more likely to be both unemployed and not in education or training. On the flip side, 90 per cent of new jobs in South Africa are created in small firms and most of the firms struggle to get entry-level employees with the right behaviour and skills set. Also, about 70 per cent of employed youth in South Africa work in small firms, which employ at most 50 people.
Implementation of programme/ initiative: Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator Initiative is a high-impact intervention aimed at addressing youth unemployment. It is based on the premise that there are entry-level jobs available but employers are reluctant to place young first-time workers in those jobs due to perceived risks. The initiative was started in 2011 and is implemented through a PPP arrangement between the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the private sector, especially employers. The programme’s funding comes from government, employers and private sector particularly through corporate social responsibility. The programme budget varies based on the programme phase and targets. The 2015-2018 three year phase, for example, has a budget of US$ 50,000,000. Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator initiative targets employers to change their perceptions about employing young workers, based on the motivation that employing young people makes human resourcing and business sense, and enables companies to contribute to national development. The initiative is implemented through a seven-step process which involves demand contracting which profiles employers and work opportunities; sourcing and creating access for difficult to reach candidates; screening and targeting youth at risk of long-term unemployment; assessing and matching potential behavioural attributes and competencies; bridging fit-for-purpose work readiness competencies and behavioural interventions; facilitating placement; and supporting and tracking retention. The youth are recruited into the programme through social media, word of mouth, community radio stations, and other community based strategies.
Main challenges: The main challenge faced by the programme is inadequate funding, the high cost of closing the behavioural and work-readiness gap for young people, and the relative employer willingness to pay for entry-level jobs and talent services. The bahavioural and work-readiness gap is addressed through integration of counselling, provision of bridging programmes with inbuilt work-readiness skills, grooming participants for job interviews, and facilitating the engagement between the employer and various participants so that the employer may select the participants they prefer.
Results achieved: The programme had an initial target of placing 10,000 candidates by end of 2014. In 2015, it was expected to provide job placements to 30,000 young people in jobs of at least one year in length, provide job experiences of three months to 20,000 young people and provide demand-driven work-seeker support to 250,000 young people. In 2014, the programme placed 9,300 young workers in employment, sourced more than 294,000 candidates, and assessed more than 85,000 candidates with over 409,000 tests. In the October–December 2015 quarter, it transitioned 5,032 young people with direct or enabled links to job opportunities and work experience against a target of 4,166; and supported 17,795 work seekers against a target of 20,800. Though no impact assessment has been conducted, the programme reported a higher retention rate with almost 75 per cent of the placements staying in their jobs for at least one year, which is higher than the industry average.
Moving Forward: Successfully implementing this initiative requires a dedicated group of partners who commit to learn together and take a long-term view of the problem in a structured demand-supply schedule. The programme partners need to collaborate to identify the demand-supply mismatch and what market inefficiency needs to be solved. The partnering organizations also need to be focused on bridging the labour market inefficiencies and responding to the changing needs of employers and young people. More financial support to train entry-level youth is needed. Employers also need change their perceptions and attitudes towards engaging young people and supporting their absorption into entry-level jobs.
Replicability: A key design feature of the Harambee Youth Accelerator programme is that it addresses both the supply and demand sides of the labour market equation. It addresses the employers’ fears of employing young people and also skills up young people through short-term interventions. The initiative also has a strong partnership with employers, especially those in the private sector. The initiative can be replicated more easily given that most countries have infrastructure that they use to provide public employment services through which they register and place job seekers. However, most of the employment service interventions do not have strong partnership with employers, and screening framework for job matching, counselling into or routing out of employment, soft skills and work readiness training, and the support and tracking component. These are some of the components, which replicating countries will need to add into their frameworks.
Graham, L., Patel, L., Chowa, G., Masa de Vera, R., Khan, Z., and Williams, L. (2016). “Youth assets for employability: An evaluation of youth employability interventions”, Baseline Report, Johannesburg: Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg
Graham, L., and Matsheni, C. (2015). “Youth unemployment in South Africa: Understanding the challenge and working on solutions”, South African Child Gauge
Retail Association (2014). Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator: Re-thinking the match and retention of entry level staff, Retail Association Employment Conference, 17th September 2014, LexisNexis
Date: July 24, 2017