South Africa’s youth population holds the key to the country’s development prospects over the next 20 years.
The government’s National Youth Policy articulates a vision through which the country’s “democracy and its social development approach to public policy creates an enabling environment in which the lives, work and prosperity of young people are placed at the center of the country’s growth and development.”1 Yet, with between 500,000 and 700,000 new labor force entrants each year for the past 10 years (in a labor market of 16 million)2, the government has struggled to capitalize on its 'demographic dividend.' Today, South Africa leads the world in youth unemployment, with an estimated 60 percent of people aged 15-353 who are jobless4.
The South African government is implementing a number of initiatives across policy domains and sectors to counter this trend. For example, government-funded public works initiatives have targeted youth participation by setting quotas (e.g. 40 percent for the Expanded Public Works Programme, a funding initiative to increase the amount of service jobs across all sectors of government)5. To produce incentives for the private sector, South Africa’s Finance Ministry recently proposed a subsidy that would encourage businesses to employ young people.
The government is also committed to providing youth with sufficient education and skills training. Currently, around half of all college graduates remain jobless for at least 2 years after graduation6. In addition to increased funding for improving schools throughout the country and creating more vocational education programs, the government is encouraging work training programs for skill development. For example, the Western Cape Work and Skills Programme connects youth with private companies such as supermarket chains, hotels, and food producers for practical trainee opportunities.7
Moving forward, continued investments in education and skills training and scaling up of successful policy and program interventions to promote economic growth will determine whether and to what extent South Africa will capitalize upon its demographic dividend.