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What's bothering SA's youth?

Barloworld Logistics conducted a Youth Pulse survey to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and concerns facing undergraduate and graduate students.

With unemployment sitting at an eight-year high of 26.6%, few could argue that something is going drastically wrong - particularly with regards to the youth. Among young South Africans aged between 15 and 24, a total of 37,5% or 3,2 million are neither employed nor enrolled in education or training. Young people, and women in particular, are the most vulnerable, resulting in a global youth unemployment rate that is almost three times higher than the rest of the global population. Driving through Johannesburg, one only has to glance at pavements and playing fields teeming with restless youngsters to see the dismal real world ramifications of these statistics.

"Today, the majority of our unemployed 18 to 25-year-olds are unskilled and increasingly angry at their perceived barriers to a better life," says Shirley Duma, HR Director at Barloworld Logistics. "There is a disconnect between the jobs being offered, the skills that are being taught, and the hopes and expectations of our youth."

As part of its Foresight Report on Skills and Unemployment in South Africa, Barloworld Logistics conducted a Youth Pulse survey to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and concerns facing undergraduate and graduate students. The survey, which garnered the views of over 700 students in South Africa, revealed some hard truths and provided guidance as to why young people are both angry and concerned about their future prospects.

Unsurprisingly, given the current economic and political volatility, the top two concerns troubling students are economic stability (80%) and job opportunities (50%). Following these, personal safety (32%) and welfare (23%) are also elements that trouble the youth, and no doubt hamper their efforts to pursue higher learning and education. Some respondents indicated other concerns, most notably financial worries - either immediate, in terms of paying for studies, or long term with regards to building a family and owning a home.

"The primary concern, apart from the economy, is that there is an oversupply of graduates in the job market today, particularly amongst those outside of the legal, accountancy and medical professions," notes Duma. "Graduates are struggling to gain any type of foothold in the working world once they leave university, and many find that their skills and knowledge do not match up with what employers are requiring."

Critically, students appear to be lacking the opportunity to gain practical and hands on training either before or upon entering the job market.

The missing link

Although most students recognise this as a disadvantage and express frustration at their inability to gain experience, the majority of university courses seem to ignore this critical part of the learning process. The Youth Pulse survey revealed that 62% of respondents indicated that their course includes practical experience, and this percentage increases to 83% when only students in the medical/scientific degrees are considered. However, when fields that have a mandatory element of work experiences (e.g. articles, community service, laboratory hours) were removed from the data, only 16% of respondents stated that their courses require practical experience.

Given that the majority of students feel that there are few places for them in the formal world of work, many look to entrepreneurship right from the outset as a viable option. While this is a positive trend, reports indicate that even the most promising of new ventures have the odds stacked up against them. For young graduates, there is undoubtedly a dearth of both mentorship and training that will improve their odds of building a successful business.

In the survey, 31% of respondents who stated that they would like to start a business indicated that they have received entrepreneurial training - however, only 18% of these students said it was part of their course work at university. A worrying 58% of those with ambitions to start their own business have had no formal training, but indicated that they would like to receive training in the future.

"Whether our young graduates are looking to start their own businesses or begin at the bottom rung within an organisation, it is clear that they need far more support in terms of tangible training and skills development," says Duma. "This is a challenge that simply cannot be ignored."

To download the full report, click here: