Youth Explorer: building layers of knowledge to better inform policy design and planning

Image: Glen Carry on Unsplash.

The Youth Explorer currently maps a series of indicators on youth well-being – e.g. income poverty, youth (un)employment, and level of education achieved – and does this at various geographical levels. This allows users to understand the lived experiences of young people across the country. Alongside this, the platform maps the physical location of, and details on, (mainly government provided) services that are available to youth in their local area. This information has been gathered by SALDRU and its partners, often in collaboration with government departments such as the Department of Employment and Labour and the Department of Higher Education and Training, in an attempt to keep the departments’ datasets clean and up to date.

The two “layers” of information allow policy and programme designers and planners to identify areas of greater need (e.g. geographical areas with higher proportions of unemployed youth and of youth living in income poverty), alongside service provision (e.g. Department of Employment and Labour service points that offer Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) services or jobseeker support) and to conduct a gap analysis that identifies a possible mismatch between the two. Civil society organisations can also use the portal to determine the further roll out strategy for their interventions. This year, several exciting pieces of work are being conducted to build an even stronger and more complete pipeline of information.

Firstly, through the Basic Package of Support (BPS) for young people who are not in employment, education or training (NEET) programme, a consortium of partners are testing an approach to mapping and verifying services “on the ground”: BPS site teams work with a fieldwork company to gather detailed information on additional (i.e. also non-governmental) services in the area of a BPS pilot site. That information is added to Youth Explorer, where the entire local community of service providers can access the information to support their own work with young people. Lessons from this exercise will be developed into a blueprint for an approach to local area service mapping at scale, which could ultimately provide training and job opportunities for large numbers of young people across the country, while working towards a more comprehensive and visible understanding of a young person’s “ecosystem”.

Secondly, the Youth Explorer team[1] has partnered with the Human Science Research Council (HSRC) to develop a set of labour demand indicators, using anonymised tax data. The introduction of these new indicators will allow users to explore a crucial third aspect of young people’s lives: the state of their local labour market. The data used to derive the indicators is collected by National Treasury and SARS from IRP5 tax submissions. The data extract received has been both anonymised and aggregated to acceptable levels to ensure that no individuals or firms can be identified.

A first new set of indicators that will be introduced on Youth Explorer includes fulltime youth employment (15-34 years[2]); this is presented for the years 2014 to 2021 and is further disaggregated by age groups (to identify younger and older youth); by gender; by wage band; by median income; and by industry. The Explorer will further be able to provide information on the total number of establishments, as well the dominant industries within a municipality or a metro. With the introduction of this third layer of information, the Youth Explorer team hopes to continue to contribute to the country’s efforts to tackle the high levels of youth unemployment.

There are, however, some important caveats: the data is limited to employers and employees in the formal sector only (i.e. tax compliant firms), which is converted into full-time equivalent (FTE) employment from tax certificates. This is important to keep in mind when working with the information: the data offer insights into formal or ‘decent jobs’ for young people, but not all opportunities on the job ladder are captured by administrative data.

It also fills an important gap about local labour demand which can help inform local policy interventions and planning without resorting to proxy measures. We can now, for instance, compare which industries absorb the most young people in formal employment, and we can do this alongside, for example, an understanding of the local further education and training opportunities. Details on the job market in the vicinity of institutes of higher education can assist the Department of Higher Education and Training in designing a curriculum that meets the needs of an institute’s local employment context.

As an illustration of this, Figure 1 shows that 5% of all FTE employed youth in the Steve Tshwete municipality are employed in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry in 2021, while Figure 2 shows that 20% are employed in the mining and quarrying industry. We can then overlay this labour information with the locations of all institutes of higher education and training, and find out more about them. Figure 3 reflects some of the information available for the local Community Education and Training (CET) satellite centre in the Steve Tshwete municipality. Gathering some additional detail on the courses on offer at the CET centre can help the department analyse whether the centre offers sufficient pathways into the local economy, or not.

Figure 1: Fulltime youth employment in the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry in Steve Tshwete


Figure 2: Fulltime youth employment in the mining and quarrying industry industry in Steve Tshwete


Figure 3: Locations of institutes of higher education and training in Steve Tshwete

[1] Work on Youth Explorer is supported by funding from the French Development Agency (AFD) through the EU-AFD Research Facility on Inequalities, and the Government Technical Advisory Centre’s Innovation Fund. It takes place in a collaboration between SALDRU, Statistics South Africa, OpenUp and now also the Human Science Research Council; it also relies on a broader partnership that includes departments and partners within the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention. The Youth Explorer team consists of Joanna Ryan, Katherine Davidson, Arindam Jana, Gibson Mudiriza, and Ariane De Lannoy and works in close collaboration with partners at OpenUp.

[2] Due to the aggregated nature of the data extract that we received, 35 year olds are excluded from the sample.