Where do you find jobs in South Africa?

If you became suddenly unemployed & you needed to get a job tomorrow where would you look? Some people are privileged enough to make a call within their network but most people in South Africa don’t have that privilege. The unemployment rate is now 30.1%. 63.3% of the total unemployment consists of young people aged 15-34. The unemployment rate within that group was 43.2% in Q1:2020 — Before the pandemic.

Most young matriculants are encouraged to apply for a safe, professional degree. They are told to do law or accounting; the very smart ones are told to try their luck at Actuarial Science. This is not because an 18-year-old has a passion for the law or auditing, some do, but it is because they are deemed the safest options on the employment path.

The road to becoming an admitted attorney or a chartered accountant is defined until one actually attempts to study one of them. To most, it feels like pushing a boulder up a hill for 7 years. What about those who don’t make it & change the degree to what they truly want? Those who scrape through university with an amalgamation of courses? What about those who could not complete their degrees or even more harsh, those who could not even step on university & FET grounds?

Maybe I might be projecting but there are 20.7 million young people in South Africa — 8.7 million of them do not have jobs. This leads me to ask: Where do you find jobs in South Africa?

Highly Skilled 

A lot of professions have governing bodies that people can become a part of but none more powerful then SAICA, LSSA & ASSA. The highly skilled are looked after by their respective governing bodies. The career path is predetermined:

  • Study for a 4-year qualification
  • Write board exams
  • Practice under supervision within an organisation for several years
  • Write board exams
  • Qualify for a designation.
  • Practice

“All qualifications are equal, but some qualifications are deemed more equal than others”

Qualifications are not treated equally, so this means graduates & those without any formal tertiary education are not treated equally. The situation is more layered. At the top are people who are highly skilled & get taken care of by their governing bodies. The middle layer: the graduates with some formal skills that are transferable between industries & lastly, the third layer are the low/unskilled — because of circumstances beyond their control have no formal/informal tertiary education.

Graduates & Low/Unskilled 

The problem is not that people are not looking. The problem is not systemic, the problem is structural, the problem is macro, the problem is governance & the lack of economic growth. South Africa has now outsourced the problem to youth accelerators & employment organizations.

Harambee, a youth employment accelerator that assists young people by getting them job-ready through up-skilling & bridging the demand-supply gap between youth & corporates, has done a good job over the past 9 years in a tough economic environment.

“Harambee has done this through innovative solutions that breakthrough barriers facing first-timers including social network, transport and connectivity barriers, educational signalling and functional competence barriers, as well as the psycho-social and behavioural barriers that keep young people from poor households locked out of the economy despite their potential and will to work”. – The Claude Leon Foundation

But the magnitude of the problem is too large for one non-governmental organization to solve. The Youth Employment Service (YES) was launched in May 2018 to create 1 million jobs in 3 years. The name is self-explanatory, YES is a youth employment service that acts as an intermediary in a 3-sided marketplace connecting youth looking for jobs, corporates who want to help & small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) who can supply the jobs.

The YES Model:

  1. Youth Apply to become part of the database for placement
  2. Corporates are incentivized to sponsor jobs with a BBBEE certificate.
  3. SMMEs apply to get youth placed within their businesses
  4. Placed youth get a 12-month contract with the SMME & a stipend from the corporate
  5. YES gets an administration fee.

In theory, the model works. Young people get paid experience, small businesses get paid labour, the corporate gets a BBBEE bump.

Today, the Youth Employment Services has commitments of 36374 jobs from 733 companies. 2 years after YES was launched, the 1 million jobs in 3 years are far from being a reality.

Can technology help?

Maybe the question I am asking is incorrect. The question itself is half-baked, maybe the question should be: Where can technology help?

A few years ago Giraffe, a South African recruitment startup won the global seedstars startup competition as the best global start-up of 2016. Giraffe automates the recruitment process for companies looking for medium-skilled workers; the graduates.

Another start-up trying to bridge the gap is trustedinterns, part of the Knowledge trust. trustedinterns is a recruitment startup that helps first-time jobseekers get internships.

But to answer the question of where do you find jobs in South Africa? — on the internet but they are just not enough. The problem is the process & the environment around jobs & job creation. The Marco effects have become an inhibiting factor & resulted in a failed state.

Where can technology help?

  1. Aggregating & distributing opportunities on and offline
  2. Through innovation & creation of new businesses
  3. Upskilling youth for the digital economy.

The only way South Africa can create more jobs is to create more business that can employ people. Besides digital skills, there are 4 other key areas of job creation in South Africa.

  • Early Childhood Development
  • Wildlife Tourism & Agriculture
  • Artisan skills
  • & Manufacturing.

I believe technology can be the catalyst at the intersection of all these areas above.

“It’s time to stop talking, talking, talking about youth unemployment and actually do something” – Kenneth Diole

But what if the YES model was used as a Venture Capital (VC) model with a different incentive structure focused on entrepreneurship & startups as a way to grow tech-enabled businesses while creating jobs?

  1. Corporates are incentivized to sponsor jobs & supply capital with a tax incentive + ROI
  2. Youth apply to become part of the database for placement
  3. Early growth startups are incentivized to employ youth with paid labour + capital
  4. Placed youth get a 12-month contract with a startup & a stipend from the corporate.
  5. Corporate VC gets management fees & carried interest

This is all hypothetical though but the only way any society can create more jobs is to grow the economy & encourage innovation. If not, jobs will be scarce, businesses will fail & we will struggle to contain the crisis of despondent youth who need an outlet to voice their anger.

Disclosure: I used to intern at the Youth Employment Service during business school. My views & opinions are my own & do not reflect the views of the organisation or anyone who works or has worked there before.

Youth & young people are interchangeable I apologize for the inconsistent choice of word.

Take care.


By Ububele Kopo

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