15 June 2023

Rising youth unemployment in South Africa is a critical challenge that requires immediate action due to the far-reaching implications it has for the country’s economic growth, social stability and the wellbeing of future generations.

The recently released Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) shows that South Africa’s unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2023 was 32.9%, with youth in the country between the ages of 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 years recording the highest unemployment rates of 62.1% and 40.7% respectively.

According to General Manager for Education Reform and Employability at Absa, Makano Morojele, these figures not only represent missed opportunities for personal growth and economic independence, but also underscore the potential consequences of a disenfranchised youth population.

Morojele notes that according to the QLFS, the number of unemployed people increased by 179 000 in the first quarter of this year, compared to the last quarter of 2022. The youth, in particular, have been hit hard, she says, with black youth between 13 and 34 years disproportionately affected. This, she adds, poses a significant problem that requires a collaborative approach to finding solutions that will ensure the future sustainability of the country through the improved economic participation of the youth.

“Treating the symptom is not going to solve the problem. Measurement and research are critical in understanding the root causes of the current crisis and defining the appropriate solutions. This is where our focus is. Together with our partners in the developmental space, we believe we have identified a unique proposition to propel meaningful sustainable change,” she says.

One of these interventions is in technical education. Absa has partnered with WeThinkCode_, a software development training academy that delivers tuition-free tech education to South African youth from underserved communities. Together they have adopted an ecosystem approach to close the gap in industry needs by developing mid-level digital skills. The curriculum is developed in collaboration with industry experts and delivered through project-based learning which enables ensures that graduates from the academy are equipped with the types of digital skills that are sought after by companies that hire tech talent.

“Each year, approximately 40,000 digital jobs go unfilled in South Africa because of the shortage of skilled developers. This training is essential in closing this digital skills gap as it enables us to pathway unemployed youth into employment in the tech sector,” says Nyari Samushonga, CEO of WeThinkCode_.

“The average entry-level salary of a software developer is R20 000 per month. If we can train enough people to occupy the 40,000 unfilled jobs, we could generate R9.6 billion in annual earnings from South Africa’s youth,” she says.

“We are creating an alternative pathway to economic participation that does not require a university degree. Our inclusive recruitment model is also enabling us to close the gender gap within the tech sector as 52% of our students are women. Over the three years of our partnership with Absa we have built a bespoke digital curriculum that has already been used by 1,132 learners with many more to come. Absa has also sponsored tuition-free digital training for 222 youth, 102 of whom have graduated and are now already in full time employment,” continues Samushonga.

The partnership’s key objective is to now scale the impact. Absa is funding and strategically supporting WeThinkCode’s expansion through a public/private partnership with the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges. This pivot aims to deliver this proven model of demand-led training in the public education system through the 250 TVET campuses across the country, thereby ensuring a national impact.

“Our work with WeThinkCode_ and other partners in the youth employability space has shown us that collaboration based on a common purpose is key but that each partner brings with them a different set of tools which is critical to be able to explore the problem, expand our solution and extend our offering. We need to see, and be open to understanding, what the reality is for all stakeholders. We believe that as Absa we can play a central role in coordinating projects and driving the pace. We are investing in how we are turning around the lives of young people across the continent. Given the current state of unemployability in our youth, we have no option but to succeed,” concludes Morojele.