Youth are our future – President Zuma

Youth are our future – President Zuma

Young people attending the inaugural Presidential Youth Indaba on Jobs and Skills were urged to dream big and help take the country forward as the government continues to invest in their development.

youth1 250Young people have been urged to dream big and help take the country forward, as the government continues to invest in their education and skills development. Over the three-day inaugural Presidential Youth Indaba on Jobs and Skills initiatives in the sector were unpacked and discussed.

“You must dream about a prosperous South Africa; we dreamt about freedom and it happened,” President Jacob Zuma told delegates at the Presidential Youth Indaba on Jobs and Skills on Sunday, 2 March.

The inaugural indaba began on Friday, 28 February. It took place in Ekurhuleni, and reflected on progress made through the implementation of the Youth Employment Accord, which was signed in April 2013. The government believes education and skills development are essential for the youth to help drive the economy. Youth make up the majority of South Africa’s population, with 50% under the age of 39. Young people also constitute a large portion of the global population.

“This investment in education is thus designed to prepare our youth for the second phase of freedom, that of meaningful economic emancipation,” Zuma said, adding that South Africa had to build an inclusive economy to create jobs, but also one that reflected the demographics of the country.

A key factor for the government is the focus on youth in public employment schemes as well as in the entrepreneurial sector.

In April 2013, an important milestone was reached when the Youth Employment Accord was signed in Soweto by youth leaders and representatives of business, labour, government and the community. It was a pledge to work together to promote youth development. The Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) supports the Accord.

It was on the day of the signing of the Accord that the IDC announced its Gro-E Youth Scheme – a R1-billion fund to support businesses owned by young people. Under the scheme, the IDC offers financial support to start-up businesses with the main aim of contributing towards sustainable job creation.

Since the adoption of the Accord, youth employment had grown strongly, Indaba delegates were told Sunday.

Employing the youth

Youth Minis Patel 250Some 420 000 new jobs have been created, mainly in construction linked to the National Infrastructure Plan, the trade sector, government programmes, business services, transport and communication. “Gauteng accounted for about half of the new youth jobs, with 210 000 new jobs registered in our host province. Gauteng has also spent about R120-million in youth enterprises,” Zuma said.

“The Youth Employment Accord has also promoted the creation of internship opportunities for the youth in national departments, municipalities and state-owned enterprises.” The president spoke of the country’s achievements in the 20 years since democracy and saluted the youth of years gone by as they had contributed immensely to the struggle for liberation.

Thousands of young people took on the apartheid state fearlessly and had fought to bring about the free, just, equal, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa in which we live today, he said. The Presidential Youth Indaba on Jobs and Skills, he explained, was intended to ensure that the youth growing up in the era of freedom and democracy had a much better present and future “than we did during our youth”.

In the past five years, the economy had regained the one million jobs lost as a result of the 2008 global economic crisis, and employment had been higher than ever before, with 15 million people with jobs. Speaking about education, Zuma said more than eight million children now attended no-fee schools, with over eight million receiving meals at school. This improved their attention span and productivity.

There were more than 800 000 children enrolled in Grade R. “At the level of higher education, 12% of our population now hold a post-graduate qualification, up from 7% in 1996.”

Regarding skills development, further education and training (FET) colleges had been tasked to produce thousands of artisans with the technical skills to run the economy. “Student enrolments at the colleges have increased by 90%,” he said. “There are increases in enrolments at universities and universities of technology as well,” Zuma said.

The government had built 12 new FET campuses across the country – mostly in rural areas. “We have also opened two new universities in Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape, another serious investment in youth development,” the president said. “Financial assistance offered to students through [the] National Student Financial Aid Scheme also continues to go up given the increasing numbers of students going to tertiary institutions.”

New fund to help youth

youth 1 250On 14 March, the government would take its education investment further with the launch of the Solomon Mahlangu Scholarship Fund, run by the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA). This was a R10-million fund designed to provide financial support to mainly youth in rural areas.

Zuma said: “The NYDA also continues to run the successful National Senior Certificate Second Chance Matric Rewrite Programme to afford young people who have failed matric a second chance to obtain their National Senior Certificate.” More than 80 000 young people had been helped to rewrite their matric, so far, and in 2013 there was an impressive 77% pass rate.

“The government is investing so much in education and skills development because these are the most powerful weapons that the youth will need to enable them to run the country’s modern economy efficiently,” he added. By working closely with business, labour and the community sector, the government had to change the ownership, control and management of the economy.

Broad-based black economic empowerment

Ownership of the largest stock exchange in Africa, the JSE, in Johannesburg, had moved to more than R600-billion in black economic empowerment transactions since 1995. The percentage of black people and women in senior management positions had increased from less than 10% in the 1990s to over 40% today.

“To further advance broad-based black economic empowerment and affirmative action policies, we have amended the Broad-Based Economic Empowerment Act and the Employment Equity Act,” he said. “These should assist the country to diversify the ownership, control and management of the economy and open more opportunities for black people, women, the youth and persons with disabilities.”

Census 2011 revealed that the income of the average white household remained six times that of the average black household. Zuma explained that all government policies would be guided by the National Development Plan, which provided a guideline to a growing economy that, among other things, sought to create jobs.

He noted some concerns surrounding youth funding and work experience, and spoke of the funding agencies established to help the youth with starting up businesses or upgrading existing ones. In the past year, the Industrial Development Corporation and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa) had approved funding of more than R160-million for young entrepreneurs.

“They must also make it possible for every prospective young entrepreneur to know what funding is available, where it is available and what the requirements are to access the funding.”

Job drivers

In addition, Zuma urged the youth to become familiar with the New Growth Path, which outlined six job drivers. These were agriculture, tourism, the green economy, infrastructure development, manufacturing and mining.

“Infrastructure development is one of our high performance areas. More than R1-trillion has been invested in national infrastructure projects. Given the success of this programme, over the next five years we will forge ahead and prioritise the development of energy, public transport, information and communication technologies and water supply,” he said.

“In our manufacturing sector, we will promote local procurement to increase domestic production and the creation of decent jobs.” He explained that this would be done through directing the state to progressively buy at least 75% of its goods and services from South African producers. The state was also expected to support small enterprises, co-operatives and broad-based black economic empowerment. This would help many youth-owned enterprises.

Increasing job demands

The economy is not able to keep up with the number of jobs required. One of the reasons for this is the global economic slowdown, but the government’s Expanded Public Works Programme, established in 2004, was set up to alleviate unemployment.

2 of the programme was launched in April 2009 and has been very successful. Between April 2009 and September 2013, 3.7 million jobs opportunities were created. Of the beneficiaries, 54% were women and 50% were youth.

“To build on this success, a target of six million work opportunities has been set over the five-year period from 2014 to 2019, many of which will be of a long duration and will benefit more young people,” Zuma said.