A saving grace for SA’s unemployed youth

Supporting entrepreneurs in South Africa's informal economy can be a crucial step towards reducing unemployment rates - and, research from Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator shows, there's potential to do something else: create more inclusive employment.

A saving grace for SA's unemployed youth
  • Research shows that just under a third of the country’s informal enterprises are led by youth.
  • Focusing efforts to support these enterprises in the informal economy could help achieve inclusive growth and address youth unemployment.
  • However youth are battling with access to data, which is a barrier to equality during lockdown.

The solution could be as easy as providing cheaper, easier access to data, it adds.

In its latest Breaking Barriers report for June, the non-profit notes that according to its research, of the country’s 1.8 million informal small and medium enterprises (SMEs), less than one-third are run by youth. Slightly more than a third are led by women. There’s room, it argues, to work towards a more inclusive economy and address the 58% youth unemployment rate by creating opportunities in areas where a significant portion of such enterprises are youth-led. 

At present, the SA economy is expected to contract by as much as 10% due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Treasury expects as many as 1.8 million jobs to be lost in a worst-case scenario.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has argued that the Covid-19 pandemic presents an opportunity to create a more inclusive economy as we work towards a recovery which could, arguably, take two to five years.

“The most common informal sector occupations for young men are taxi drivers and motor vehicle mechanics, and for young women—beauticians and street food vendors.

“Supporting these young men and women will help drive a more inclusive recovery—and without their livelihood strategies, the poverty gap could grow and inequality increase,” the Harambee report reads.

According to the report, some youth have been finding business opportunities in their communities amid lockdown – such as selling internet connectivity to member of their communities or producing cloth masks.

Data access barrier

However, they are also facing challenges, a major barrier being access to data.

“Access to data has emerged one of the most significant barriers to equality during the lockdown… When asked, young people told us because of limited cash they opt to purchase smaller data bundles more often, even if the price per unit is higher than a bulk data bundle purchase,” the report read.

On average, young people spend R360 per month on data, others as much as R1 800, a survey by Harambee found. Youth require data for job searching, online applications, social media, research and academic work.

“Sixty three percent of young people we surveyed do not have an income—and many youth are using the childcare grant to support themselves,” the report read.

“Youth tell us that they are eager to learn, but that data barriers are significant …By lowering (or even removing) data costs, young people are more readily able to access information, seek learning and job opportunities and engage with others.”

Making mobi-sites “data free” has the effect of youth being productive during the daytime and not limiting their online behaviour to after midnight, when data is cheapest, the report indicated.

Published on News 24