Matric is just the beginning of education
For young South Africans to get jobs, studying further in the right field is paramount
WITH close to a million jobs lost last year, employment prospects for the 335 000 successful matrics are bleak as the country struggles to pull out of one of the worst recessions in decades, say unions, researchers and teachers.
The class of 2009 faces the daunting challenge of finding a job in competition with about three million people aged between 18 and 25 who are unemployed.
A further blow to those hoping for a gap year or work experience in the UK is that a major shake-up in that country’s immigration laws means they can no longer get a two-year youth visa. But experts say the future is not as daunting as it might appear, provided they obtain skills and further their studies at tertiary level.
Andre Venter, spokesman for the union the United Association of South Africa, referring to the union’s report, “Responding to the educational needs of post-school youth”, which contained unemployment figures for young people, said: “I cannot over-emphasise the importance of education. Employers are looking for skilled people, and a straight matric qualification provides school leavers with limited skills, if any.”
The union’s 2009 Employment Report showed that unemployment among South Africans under 25 who were not studying was around 50 percent. About 25 percent of matrics were unable to find jobs. In contrast, less than 5 percent of people who had an honours degree were jobless.
Economist Mike Schüssler, who penned the report, said in the two decades he had been an economist he had never before seen unemployment levels like these.
“For matrics who can afford it, there is only one solution: further your studies. The fact is that the higher one is educated, the better the chances there are for employment. People with university degrees or more have an unemployment rate of 5 percent or less in the past five years. People with technical qualifications such as artisans, nurses and the like have an unemployment rate of around 12 percent, while people with a matric have an average unemployment rate of about 25 percent.
“People who have only Grade 11 or Grade 10 have an unemployment rate closer to 35 percent, or about seven times that of a person with a degree and three times higher than someone with a technical background.”
He said research showed that people with matric earned between 40 and 70 percent more than those who did not have the qualification. Those with a diploma or certificate earned between 170 percent and 220 percent more, and those with degrees between 250 percent and 400 percent more than those who didn’t finish matric.
Schüssler said any form of specialisation, from a hair- dresser to a medical doctor, increased chances of employment and earning potential.
Dirk Hermann, deputy general secretary of Solidarity, said Grade 12 pupils should not regard the end of matric as the end of their learning path, but rather as the beginning.
“If a matriculant makes the further effort qualifying in a scarce skill, he or she is almost certain of a job. The golden formula is therefore not only to study further, but to study in the right field,” he said.
A report compiled by the union also found that the school curriculum did not prepare pupils for the working environment. Many pupils chose “easy” school subjects that did not increase their employability.
Hermann said: “According to our research, employees with a qualification lower than tertiary level were the ones hit hardest by the worst labour recession in decades.”
Although about 770 000 jobs were lost between the third quarter of 2008 and the third quarter of last year, employment figures show that there was a net increase of 113 000 jobs for employees with a tertiary qualification. “It is only at this level of education that an increase in job opportunities was recorded in the past year – a clear sign that a tertiary qualification offers a degree of job protection,” said Hermann.
The study identified eight careers in which there were serious shortages of workers, including accounting, informa- tion technology, education, social work, nursing, pharmacy, engineering and various technical careers.
The Human Science Research Council’s Miriam Altman, the executive director of the Centre for Poverty, Employment and Growth, pointed out that by global standards, South African youth spent a relatively long time at school but had a poorer performance.
They left school without the basic skills to help them navigate the labour market. These include search, problem solving, reading comprehension, communication, personal presentation, team work, and basic internet and computer skills.
“Getting a ‘first’ job is a challenge for young people who don’t have that experience. It is also about the way they present themselves, their involvement in social, sport or community activities and their ‘work-readiness,’” said Altman.
South African Student Congress president Mbulelo Mandlana has called for free higher education. “It is the only ultimate solution to the incapacity of poor families to access education,” said Mandlana.
OVER ONE HURDLE: Elated Fairbairn matrics Heinrich Painczyk, Jared Lomas, Ryan Robson, Lisa van Antwerpen, Tamala Norris, Nicole Danielle Warr and Natasha Grove celebrate their success after receiving their matric results this week.