More Support Needed for Young People Not in Employment, Education or Training
I was a naughty child at school. Not a bully, or a thief, but naughty enough to be a concern to my parents and my teachers. One of my best friends was called Mandla*, and we used to get up to all sorts of mischief together.
In our last year of school I did well in my exams, and went on to university and then to travel the world and work in far-flung places. Mandla, on the other hand, did not do well in our final year of school. This is not to compare us academically. It was the dying years of Apartheid, and although we were in a multi-racial school, I still had significantly more privileges than he did. This is something of which I am keenly aware, and ashamed.
Nevertheless, Mandla did poorly at school. After that he started drinking heavily, got in some trouble with the law, and began his downward spiral. No job, and limited ambition. Then, in his 20’s, he was killed in a car crash. Everyone who knew him was devastated.
Today, our government officially classifies young people like Mandla as “NEETS” (Not in Employment, Education or Training). There are a surprisingly high number of NEETS in South Africa, sitting around waiting for something to happen. Our national youth unemployment rate is a shocking 50%, but this figure only includes people who are actually looking for a job. If you had to add the NEETS then it would push youth unemployment past 60%. Think about that for a moment.
We have some NEETS at SOS Children’s Villages. The majority of young people in our care go on to study, or into internships and employment. However, there is a small minority who fall short of university, but who are not much interested in vocational studies or low-level internships. NEETS. This is where the concern lies.
It was like that when I was young too. Mandla did not have the grades to get into university, but he saw people like me making our way into the system. In his mind, it would have been humiliating to go to a vocational college, or to take up an internship in a paint factory. And so he did what so many other NEETS do, and he turned to crime. South Africa has one of the highest incarceration rates of young people in the world.
At SOS Children’s Villages we have a programme to empower young people, called YouthCan! We leverage corporate partnerships to support young people to successfully manage the transition from school to independent adulthood. This is because children who lose their parental care have an especially high risk of exclusion from the job market and society. They often lack community support networks and positive role models, skills training and work experience. So we have been overjoyed by all the new corporate partners who have come on board to help solve the problem of youth unemployment.
The programme has been successful by conventional measures, and it has created so many new opportunities for the young people in our care. But still, the NEETS are not interested, because they see these as low-status, uncool options. Perhaps as confirmation that their university dream is dead.
This type of thinking needs to change. It is our responsibility as South Africans to better prepare young people to seize opportunities outside of university. We need to reduce the stigma of going to a vocational college, and show that being an artisan today can be a profitable and fulfilling job. We need more role models who have followed this route to influence the young people. We need to do more to prepare young people for independent life, to nurture their talents, and to always give them a second chance if they fall.
For me, it is clear that we will be judged by how well the most vulnerable children in our society do in life.
Note to Editor: Mandla* name is changed to protect his identity and that of his family.