What can South Africa learn from the European Youth Guarantee?

Members of the research and policy teams with colleagues from Actiris, a Brussels agency for employment and vocational training. Photo: Actiris, Brussels, Belgium

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008 the European Union put in place a ‘Youth Guarantee’ – a commitment by member states to ensure that all young people under the age of 25, within four months of leaving school or losing a job, would be able to access either an offer of employment, or an opportunity to acquire the education, skills and experience that could lead to a job in future.

First quarter labour market data shows that youth unemployment in South Africa now exceeds 55%; a third of young people, or some 3 million between the ages of 15 and 24, are not in education, employment or training (NEET). By any measure, this is a national crisis.

What can be done? And is there anything that we can learn from the European experience?

Over the past six months, a research consortium led by SALDRU has been supported by the Capacity Building Programme for Employment Promotion (CBPEP), funded by the European Union and based in the Government Technical Advisory Centre in the National Treasury, to explore and apply lessons from the European Youth Guarantee model to the South African context. The project will design a framework for a possible ‘basic package of support’ for young people, in particular young people who are NEET, with the aim of helping them to (re)connect to the education system or labour market within a specified period of leaving school or work.

In July, the CBPEP supported a visit by members of the research and policy teams to Brussels to engage with EU experts from Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Finland and Ireland to share ideas and see what could be learned.

While the European context is in many respects very different, important lessons and insights were gleaned. Of particular relevance was the recognition that young people who are disconnected from education and the labour market are often hard to reach and require an individualised approach to help them onto a path towards sustainable livelihoods. Furthermore, a joined-up approach to the challenge of youth unemployment requires cross-government collaboration and partnerships that put the young person at the centre of their focus .

The South African team was also advised not to promise more than what could realistically be delivered, as failure to fulfil the promises made would only lead to the further frustration and disillusionment of unemployed youth.

The engagement with EU experts and practitioners will help to inform and strengthen the proposals for a basic package of support that will be put forward by the research team towards the end of this year.