Is short-term employment a possible solution to SA’s youth unemployment crisis?

Currently, the youth unemployment rate in South Africa is 50.09% – the highest in the world.  Even though it has decreased from 54.20 in the third quarter of 2016, it is still quite high considering the fact that about 48% of young South Africans are unemployed. Even after years of interventions from both the public and the private sector, coupled with a great deal of policy attention, the situation has escalated and is now considered chronic.

Needless to say, thousands of young South Africans whose ambition and hope has been crippled by the unemployment crisis are in desperate need of rescuing. However, it seems like resolving the situation requires large policy investment, political will and most importantly, time – a luxury we can’t afford at the moment. The question is, what can we do deal with this problem in the meantime?

The creation of short-term employment opportunities as one of the possible solutions comes to mind. Short-term employment opportunities such as internships, contract work and learnership programmes do not only ensure that one receives the much needed work experience, they also provide temporary relief to one’s financial strains. Furthermore, short-term employment means more unemployed youth are introduced to the job market even if they take turns doing do. However, as with anything else, short-term employment has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Short-term employment can offer flexibility you won’t find at a permanent, full-time job. This means you can use the breaks in between jobs to pursue personal projects or develop a new skills set. As a contract worker, you get a chance to impress the employer and this can lead to full-time employment. This form of employment is also an opportunity to sample a number of employers by taking on a series of different contracts in a variety of industries. Above all, all temporary jobs bring you a world of new lessons that you could not have possibly learnt by being in single permanent job and helps you build your resume.

On the down side, you might end up doing work you really do not enjoy, which can lead to boredom and a lack of motivation. In spite of whatever amount of experience you might have, as a temporary employee, you might feel you are a second-class employee, sometimes even feel inferior to the permanent employees in the organisation. Short-term jobs might be easier to find than full-time employment, however, there is no security and no employment benefits such as medical aid, pension fund etc.  Since you are paid as a contractor, meaning the employer will not deduct for taxes, you must therefore make sure to pay your taxes to the government on your own.

I spoke to a few Activators to get their views on temporary employment as a possible solution to South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis. Activator, Phetogo Kgosierileng thinks the high rate of unemployment is South Africa is one of the major contributors to the country’s high rate of crime and drug abuse. Therefore, providing employment opportunities for the youth, whether permanently or temporary, is killing two birds with one stone. “It is better for  young people to have temporary jobs that empower them and further develop their skills than being completely unemployed and frustrated, which can lead to poor life decisions like committing crime,” he adds.

Activator, Lisa Silwana says a lot of young graduates struggle to find employment because they lack the necessary work experience required to enter their respective industries. “Short-term employment is a great platform for graduates to gain experience and make contacts in order to advance in their careers. In a way, it can be seen as a solution to their issue of unemployment because it shapes young people to stand a better chance of getting employed in the future,” she says.

On the other hand, Activator, Dineo Segophiso doesn’t agree that short-term employment is a solution to the situation. Like thousands of other young people in South Africa, Dineo has faced the hardships that come with being unemployed. Unfortunately, in her experience, she didn’t enjoy any advantages of short-term employment because it was never in line with her vision and life goals.

Activator, Prince Charles thinks that young people accept temporary jobs because they are forced by circumstances to do so, not necessarily because of the advantaged mentioned above. “People are living under poverty and accept any kind of jobs just to put food on the table for their families. That is a good thing because people need financial relief,” he explains.

While the government and some private entities continue searching for efficient intervention for the youth unemployment crisis in South Africa, creating more short-term employment opportunities for the youth seems like a good idea. However, even though that comes with a lot of advantages like skills development and flexibility, it presents a lot of disadvantages such as instability and unsound social security for the youth.

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