The lives of the majority of young people in South Africa continue to be marked by significant challenges across multiple dimensions of deprivation. While youth are disproportionately affected by income poverty, young people from a low socio-economic background also need to navigate their way through an often dysfunctional education system, are faced with poor-quality housing, unreliable and often expensive transport, ill health, challenging community dynamics, and a labour market that rewards mostly higher levels of skills than what many of them achieve before they exit schooling.
These challenges interact with one another in complementary ways, keeping many young people trapped in cycles of deprivation despite their high levels of aspiration and endless attempts to improve their outcomes.
Currently, at this crucial phase of transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood, close to one-third of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are not in any kind of education, employment or training (NEET). Totalling just over three million people, most of these NEET youth have insufficient educational credentials to secure a job and are ill-equipped to navigate the complex social structures that determine access to employment or re-entry into education. While they are out of school and the labour market, their vulnerability is heightened as they are also invisible to most of the existing administrative systems, especially once they have stopped receiving the Child Support Grant.
As a result of such marginalisation and disconnect, it has been difficult to gain an understanding of the challenges that these youth face, and to address them inclusively and responsively.
Globally, the number of young people who are NEET has been increasing alarmingly, attracting significant research and policy attention. A growing body of research, both internationally and in South Africa, shows that the disconnect that NEET youth experience is harmful for their long-term well-being. The disadvantage is especially pronounced if they remain NEET for an extended time, and is associated with social exclusion, worsening physical and mental health, substance abuse and increased risky behaviour. The longer that young people stay NEET, the more precarious their job prospects and their chances for discouragement, in turn keeping them from participating in the labour market, training or education.
How are other countries assisting NEET youth?
In the European Union (EU), member states are implementing a “Youth Guarantee” programme to reduce the number of inactive young people and support their (re)entry into education, training and employment. The design and implementation of this intervention builds on a multi-disciplinary evidence base that disaggregates the NEET population into subgroups and interrogates what kinds of interventions are needed for each of these to ensure that no young person is rendered invisible and left to their own devices. The approach stresses the importance of a tailored intervention that can take the different needs and characteristics of various subgroups of NEET youth into account, instead of a “one-size-fits-all” model.
Based on this approach, a SALDRU-led project, which was first aired at the Presidential Jobs Summit Colloquium in 2018, is investigating what type of intervention can be designed to ensure that young people who are NEET in South Africa are also supported. The project explores how best to deliver a pro-active, well-targeted and multi-faceted package of support as young people move along the difficult trajectory of trying to understand, access and complete appropriate pathways of further education, training or employment. The approach moves away from regarding young people as job-seekers only and instead considers how best to address the key factors that keep these youth excluded.
The project is conducted in partnership with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab Africa; Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg; DG Murray Trust; and The Jobs Fund. The Capacity Building Programme for Employment Promotion, funded by the EU and based in the Government Technical Advisory Centre in the National Treasury, provides funding and technical support.
Who are the 15 – 24-year-olds that are NEET in South Africa?
While South African policies flag a concern over youth who are NEET, there is little understanding of the situation of these young people in the country; the realities of their transitions into and out of employment, education and training; and of the kinds of interventions that are needed to support them.
An analysis of second quarter data of the 2018 Quarterly Labour Force Survey, supplemented by 2017 General Household Survey data, brings to the fore the diversity of a group that is faced with challenges at multiple levels:
- Youth between the ages of 15 – 24 make up 38% of SA’s NEET youth.
- The majority of NEET youth in this age group are female (54%) and Black (87%).
- Most NEET youth (57%) of these ages are living in urban areas.
- 71% – or 2.3 million – live in households with an income of less than R1,183 per person per month. The majority (57%) of these income-poor NEET youth are female.
The demographics of these young people vary considerably by province, district, and municipal ward, pointing to the need for a model of support that can be tailored to the needs of such a diverse group and the context of their particular areas.
Providing “wrap-around” services and face-to-face connections
Currently, South Africa’s policy framework recognises the need to address a range of issues affecting youth, such as poverty and unemployment, but there is no approach for coordinating across all departments to provide a holistic and tailored approach to youth development. A review of the EU approach, validated by South African research, has indicated the critical need for multi-faceted support throughout the entire transition to young adulthood, offered in a way that builds relationships of trust and care with young individuals and targeted at their specific situation.
Thus, the support package for South Africa’s NEET youth is conceptualised as a comprehensive support and activation strategy that places the young person as central in its approach. It starts by taking stock of each youth’s unique combination of hard and soft skills, strengthens and formally recognises this set of skills as part of their personal resumé, and then uses this assessment to guide and connect each youth to the services most appropriate for them. This can range from a connection to further education and training, a job-generating or placement programme, the social grant system and/or (mental) health care.
Moving beyond this conceptualisation, the hard work in the project focuses on deriving possible pilot projects that are built with full, hard-headed assessment of the actual institutional and labour market realities prevailing in the communities where South Africa’s NEET youth live.