articipants at last week’s World Economic Forum on Africa held several sessions dedicated to finding answers to the continent’s high youth unemployment rate.
More than 100 young leaders from 31 countries discussed ways to create jobs. At the end of the meeting, delegates agreed urgent attention was needed to address the plight of the youth and provide it with better opportunities for employment.
As we commemorate Youth Month, it is important to reflect on this issue, as we are constantly warned our unemployed youth represents a ticking time bomb. In the recent past, we have witnessed large numbers of unemployed youth in the forefront of community unrest in our country and the rest of the world.
In 2014, youth unemployment in South Africa was said to be at 36.1%, and the jobless youth made up 75% of the country’s unemployed. Urgent action is required to deal with this situation. However, we have to acknowledge there are no quick fixes for youth unemployment.
The crux of the issue of youth unemployment is a lack of relevant skills. Many employers cannot find young people with the job skills they need. The reality is many of our youths without digital skills are being left out of a growing number of job and business opportunities. To promote employment for youths, it is essential they obtain digital skills.
Information and communication technology (ICT) is transforming all sectors of the economy, including farming, manufacturing and health. The demand for basic and advanced ICT skills cuts across all sectors.
As government, we acknowledge we have to do more, and do so quickly, to ensure we leverage ICT to contribute to improving service delivery and efficiency in the private sector and create jobs.
This year we are starting phase one of broadband rollout – called SA Connect – by connecting health facilities, schools and other government institutions to poor communities. We are in the pilot stage of connecting government facilities in eight poor district municipalities to fast and reliable internet.
SA Connect sets a target of broadband access at 10 megabits per second for all South Africans by 2030 and 100 megabits per second for 80% of the population that same year.
What is required to break the cycle of poverty and unleash youth potential in creating change for themselves and society is a determined focus on ICTs. Most young people are not benefiting from the opportunities in the fast-changing ICT sector.
This is despite the fact that technology has great promise in increasing the economic empowerment of the youth. For example, it is creating new market sectors that did not exist a few years ago, such as social media and the mobile-apps economy. There is also an explosion of online learning opportunities and resources for jobseekers and digital entrepreneurs.
High youth unemployment not only hampers economic growth, but for the youth it can be debilitating and affect their ability to lead productive lives.
Urgent attention is needed to address the plight of youths and provide them with better opportunities for employment. That is why we have included ICT in all our youth employment strategies. The demand for basic and more advanced ICT skills has meant we have had to come up with a number of initiatives to increase the basic digital literacy of South Africans, especially young people.
Our iKamva National e-Skills Institute has been funded with a budget of R36 million to drive the skills programme. Working in partnership with the department of small business development, we have developed a comprehensive digital entrepreneurship programme to provide solutions to young digital entrepreneurs. So far, more than 5 000 schools countrywide have been provided with internet connectivity and state of the art computer facilities.
This programme – which has been supported by nongovernmental organisations and the private sector – has empowered young people to become leaders in the ICT sector and foster an ICT-savvy community. Through our techno-girl programme, we are also empowering and encouraging young women to pursue careers in ICTs.
All of these opportunities point to the need to promote collaborative learning in digital skills development and the promotion of universal access of youths to ICT. In addition to the educational and economic advantages gained as a result of these programmes, access to ICT can also contribute to a working democracy.
Greater access to new media would mean the public not only has better access to information, but is able to contribute information. As delegates to the World Economic Forum on Africa observed, none of these solutions to youth unemployment is simple, but neither are they impossible.
Mkhize is deputy minister of telecommunications and postal services