Economic transformation is crucial for economic development. When we talk of economic transformation, it is important to consider structural change, which is going from lower productivity to high productivity and within-sector productivity growth. The two mentioned sectors are to be considered in a holistic approach to ensure that Economic growth is achieved. Given the history of our country, it has shaped how our country looks today and how we can achieve goals of economic transformation in the ‘new’ South Africa.

South Africa has been a democratic country for 30 years now and there has been remarkable progress, however, it is very hard to ignore the persistent challenges. When it comes to economic development and growth, democracy has given us a conducive platform by promoting stability, transparency, and accountability. Despite this promising propaganda that democracy comes with, we still face the horrors of instability, corruption, and unemployment in our country.   

Youth in South Africa, defined as individuals between the ages of 15 and 35 make up a significant portion of the population. In my opinion, I believe that the youth of South Africa have great potential. Despite this potential, data released by Statistics South Africa in May 2023 shows that a total number of 4.9 million people between the ages of 15-34 are unemployed, youth aged 25-34 recorded 40.7% and 3.7 million of the unemployment 10.2 million of young people aged 15-24 were not in employment, education or training. These stats are concerning. We live in a country highly populated by young people and yet the majority of them are unemployed and unskilled.  

We cannot run away from the fact that apartheid continues to have a huge impact on how things are, and we unfortunately have to work around it. It is very easy to be expected to ‘move on’ and forget the history of our country with the detrimental effects it has had on our forefathers and how it continues to affect us. We were taken advantage of, and after years of fighting for freedom, we were expected to know everything.  Yes, I believe that we are where we are as a country because of apartheid, this however does not excuse the corrupt people in power positions.

To be able to focus on the big picture, it is important to narrow it down to where this problem starts. Schools offer little career guidance, and this leads to having a youth that lacks information on matching skills and interests to their chosen subjects at school. Despite the youth having higher education levels than the past generation did, the prospects of employment are not getting better, and the education system fails to adequately provide youth even with the basic skills

A significant portion of youth are engaged in informal employment that is characterized by low wages, lack of job security, and limited access to social protection. Gender disparities may also impact education access and employability as young women face greater barriers to entering the workforce. Limited access to finance and entrepreneurial skills hinders youth employment and entrepreneurship. Despite the potential for entrepreneurship, young people face challenges when it comes to establishing and sustaining their businesses.

To address this issue, studies have shown that a focus on employer behaviour and hiring preferences would help in shaping young people’s access to the job market. Economic transformation creates opportunities for investment in education and skills training programs that are tailored to the needs of emerging industries. Innovation and technology need to be promoted in our country to open opportunities for youth engagement in new and emerging industries such as digital services, renewable energy, and manufacturing industries. Labor market reforms are to be established to reduce skills mismatches, thus enhancing job quality and employment. Policies are already in place to ensure fair wages and decent work contributing to sustainable economic transformation. Empowering the youth as active participants in economic decision-making processes fosters inclusivity and social cohesion.

Addressing the challenges and seizing the opportunities related to Youth employment and skills development is essential for achieving sustainable economic transformation. Investing in education, skills training, entrepreneurship support and labor market reforms are critical for unlocking the potential of youth as drivers of economic development and growth.

About the Author

Ngobubele Lukrozo, a 21-year-old Bachelor of Pharmacy student at the University of the Witwatersrand, sets her sights on a future in research and drug development. Thriving in collaborative environments, Ngobubele demonstrates exceptional leadership qualities. Throughout her university career, she has held various leadership positions, currently serving as the chairperson of the living and learning community, “Unlocking Leadership.”

She seeks out opportunities to learn from those around her, fostering a growth mindset both inside and outside the classroom. When not dedicated to her studies, Ngobubele embraces an active lifestyle, being a self-described “gym girl.”

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