Government getting in the way of employment initiatives

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Investec Group Chief Executive Stephen Koseff and Goldman Sachs Partner Colin Coleman are preparing to launch the Youth Empowerment Service (YES) to bring down South Africa’s 38.2% youth unemployment, but the government is getting in their way.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Aug 16, 2018

“We are ready and raring to go, but we continue to wait for the Government Gazette,” said Koseff. “Politics in the background is getting in the way of execution. It’s the slowness of a government which needs to get its act together. That’s the problem.”

Koseff, the co-convenor of YES, was one of the speakers on a panel discussing youth unemployment, the state of our country’s education system, and the need for job creation at the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) on Tuesday night. The forum was arranged by GIBS, and the Director of the institute’s Ethics and Governance Think Tank, Rabbi Gideon Pogrund.

Professor Piet Naude, the Dean of Stellenbosch Business School and the founder of Future Nation Schools, and Sizwe Nxasana, the former Chief Executive of FirstRand and Telkom, joined Koseff in the discussion.

With more than one in every three young people in the labour force unemployed in the first quarter of this year, YES is vital to help take this country forward. It is not the only private-sector initiative aimed at helping the unemployed that is being held back because the government is dragging its heels.

“Not having a job is humiliating,” said Pogrund. “But having no prospects of getting a job is devastating, especially for young people. It destroys hope. Youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb. The role of education is crucial, but 25 years since the end of apartheid and in spite of heavy government spending, the education system in our country is still failing our youth. They are not being afforded an opportunity to develop their skills or succeed.”

Said Naude: “The biggest issue in our country is not the land question. The biggest crime being committed is that of failing education. Our government needs to be held to account, and made to change our dysfunctional, crooked, and altogether terrible education system.”

Naude said multiple studies have been carried out to establish which government policies were most conducive to creating jobs. “As [President Cyril] Ramaphosa said, we want evidence-based government policies. I don’t think they always get it right. They often create policies which radically destroy jobs instead of creating them.

“Our biggest issue is a lack of social cohesion. How can we get government to create the appropriate policies to enable private sectors and civil society to contribute? How do we create a society in which people feel that they don’t need to burn down a library to get the government to listen to them and do something?”

Koseff said we have a stuck economy faced with structural inhibitors, and education of the workforce is one of them. “We don’t have the skills we need, and can’t fix it overnight. We must help people who have no hope, and give them the ability to go out and work.” He maintains that we need to create a viable township economy as a basis, as corporates aren’t creating enough jobs.

“It’s not only about giving people a skill, but creating economies near where they live, eliminating the big problem of the cost of transport,” he said. “We need to understand the challenges of people living in rural areas. If we can stimulate these areas and their business activities, we may have a chance.”

According to Nxasana, it is essential that new players enter the arena to show us what a new education system can look like in the African context. He stresses that our education curricula are more than a century old, and are not preparing the youth appropriately for the future.

“We are not equipping our students for the 21st century and the Fifth Industrial Revolution,” he says. “We need to ensure that new concepts are brought into the classroom, such as coding and robotics, and to make education appropriate for the African context of today.

“What sort of students are coming out of school at the end of matric – if they make it through all 12 years and don’t drop out? Students armed with information that is not relevant. While the department of basic education has devised a three-stream education system, it has not implemented it yet.”

Nxasana maintains that ministers of education never think long-term, only short-term. “We’ve had five ministers of education since 1994. Each has a four-year term, and they think in relation to that time only. They forget that students are in the school system for 12 years, yet they chop and change policies and make decisions based on whims and personal interests. The result is that the education system has lost 25 years.”

Although both Nxasana and Koseff expressed confidence in outsourcing services to the private sector, Naude pointed out the problem with this. “When the state partners with a private service provider, we still pay both of them,” he said. “In South Africa, we are always told how we have a capable state. I see little evidence for the public to believe it. The success stories are all where government agencies are replaced by external structures.”

He continued: “The state is failing us in health, legal systems, and security. This country cannot claim to be a capable state. The areas we were good at, where we could play a leading role, have been lost. We were leaders in tourism, but devised regulations which changed that. We were leaders in mining, but can’t get a charter out in four months. Agriculture has been very efficient, but if we want to retain the edge, we cannot drag out the land-redistribution issue the way we have because investors and key businesses lose interest and confidence. How do you expect anyone to invest in a country where no policy is certain? Unless government structures execute their mandates properly, we cannot solve our problems.”

All three speakers agreed that the role of activism was therefore more important than ever. “Academics don’t like noise, so activism doesn’t come easy to us,” Naude chuckled. “But, it’s clear that we can’t solve the problem by writing a case study, publishing it, and having only three people read it. The power to change social structures lies in the people. By coming together and taking a stand with a clear message, activism becomes meaningful.”

Nxasana pointed out that any change to the current climate could come about only through public expression. “New streams of education are possible only as a product of activism,” he said. “We need to use activism to stimulate changes to policy, to address unemployment, and channel our energies constructively.”

Koseff agreed, but said the term “activism” should be substituted with “active engagement”.

“To me, activism means burning things. We need to engage actively, involve ourselves as much as we can to secure more positive outcomes.”

Pogrund concluded by suggesting that instead of contemplating our future in South Africa on the basis of optimism, we should think in terms of hope. “Optimism is passive, and suggests we believe in a better future, but aren’t active in securing it. Hope is active, and involves doing something to secure that the future is, indeed, better.”


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