The latest Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) shows 74.7% of youth (aged 15-24), this means more than 10.6 million youth in South Africa, are unemployed. According to the expanded definition of joblessness, this takes youth unemployment to a 14-year record high in the first quarter of 2021. IQbusiness released its annual Youth Progress Index (YPI) Report for 2021, which measures how social and environmental factors are impacting the quality of life of South African youth.
The 2021 YPI report identifies the main factors which perpetuate South Africa’s extremely high youth unemployment rate – and the results are unsurprising. This year’s report makes the depressing but obvious conclusion that the youth of South Africa have very limited access to opportunities.
The YPI considers various factors including basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing and opportunity. Basic human needs assesses young people’s ability to survive with adequate nourishment and basic medical care, clean water, sanitation, adequate shelter, and personal safety. Foundations of wellbeing captures whether our society offers building blocks for young people to improve their lives, while opportunity looks into whether young people have the freedom and opportunity to make their own choices.
These dimensions are measured on a national and regional level through a range of outcome-based indicators that are youth-specific in nature. A final regional YPI score is then derived from 51 indicators sourced from survey samples and other big data sources, such as Stats SA, the South African Police Service, the Department of Education and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. Throughout the Index, a score of 100 represents the ideal utopia that we are striving for in the long term.
At a sub-national level, the Western Cape (65.44) and Gauteng (60.51) stand apart from the rest of South Africa on youth progress scores, with Mpumalanga (53.15) not far behind.
The “Foundations of Wellbeing” dimension is a strong contributor to the overall performance of the Western Cape and Gauteng, where they score 78.35 and 71.81 respectively. These figures indicate that both provinces have relatively better success in their quest to provide their youth with access to basic knowledge, information and healthcare while providing a satisfying environment for youth to live in.
Basic human needs and foundations of wellbeing have also improved on average across all provinces over the past six years – while indicators for the opportunity dimension reveal an alarming decline since 2015.
Opportunity scores rank particularly low for youth in the Eastern Cape (32.43) and North West (30.09), indicating that South African youth are unsatisfied with the degree of personal rights, freedom and choice available to them in both provinces. These scores also outline poor access to advanced education in both regions. This year, the findings under this “Opportunity dimension” provide the most unique and useful insights.
The limited access that South African youth have to advanced education is a critical factor that blocks young people’s opportunities. This is compounded by the findings of an Amnesty International report (2020) which suggests South Africa has a broken and unequal education system which perpetuates poverty and inequality. That report highlights that the country’s education system is plagued by crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms, and relatively poor educational outcomes.
A good place to start to address these issues would be to embrace and adopt technology to enhance earning potential by exposing our youth to a wide virtual market where they can leverage their skills for employment.
But the successful deployment of technological tools depends almost exclusively on adequate internet access. Alarmingly, as Stats SA has found, on average only 9.3% of households have internet access in South Africa across metropolitan, urban and rural homes in all nine provinces. This can and must change in order for our youth to start competitively and meaningfully participate in the global digital economy.
A cohesive national digital transformation policy that unifies public and private players behind a singular objective of promoting digital enablement in education and entrepreneurship will be essential to improve youth developmental outcomes in our country over the next 10 years.
We can continue to use the many findings of the YPI Report to systematically identify and prioritise the most pressing needs of South African youth, in order to build a fairer society for our younger citizens.
The YPI offers a national and sub-national framework of evidence that can be used to shape practical policies that will help our youth access the opportunities they need to empower themselves and their communities. One thing is evidently clear – we will need to act quickly if we hope to build a better tomorrow for the youth of today.