PATRICIA DE LILLE: Create ladders for SA's jobless youngsters

Each year in June, the country grapples with issues facing our young people.

Central on all our minds is the persistence of youth unemployment, or what Derek Yu, an economics associate professor at the University of the Western Cape, calls “chronic joblessness”.

Yu points out that 39% of unemployed South Africans have not seen the inside of a workplace and the number is much higher among young people – at 60.3%.

It is an indictment on all of us. Why are national, provincial and local governments not succeeding in creating the roads and ladders for our young people to climb out of poverty to employment? Why is corporate South Africa sometimes hesitant to employ more of our youth?

We all must work together across society to tackle unemployment. It’s one of the biggest dangers to the stability of our democracy.

There are many factors that contribute to unemployment, and focusing on one solution won’t grow a society that is inclusive and filled with opportunities, let alone solve the problem.

In the City of Cape Town, we have realised we cannot sit idle thinking that somehow, by providing excellent services in water, electricity and refuse removal, the rest will figure itself out.

One of our most innovative programmes is our YouthStartCT entrepreneurial challenge, which actively incubates our next generation of entrepreneurs. In this competition, now in its third year, young people between the ages of 18 and 35 submit their existing businesses that are creating employment opportunities for young people or which plan to include employment opportunities for young people.

YouthStartCT is an accelerator programme for start-up entrepreneurs, whose overarching aim is to contribute to skills development, innovation and the development of entrepreneurship in Cape Town. There is a great mix of bold young people this year and we look forward to announcing the top three and overall winner next week in the culmination of the Youth Month programme.

In April, I visited Atlantis to see one of the new 22 job centres the town established to train and connect job seekers with employers in the metro.

I met participant Chuma Jaqu (25), who found employment through the programme. Jaqu, from Gugulethu, struggled for two years to get a job. He matriculated in 2014 and volunteered at a hospital after completing a paramedics course.

Thanks to the programme, Jaqu started work for Cashbuild in Gugulethu in February.

Over the next three years, this jobseekers’ programme will run skills assessments for 30 000 unemployed residents, provide work-readiness skills training for 6 000 participants and give 4 050 candidates in job opportunities.

In 2011, we launched the mayoral apprenticeship programme, where, after advertising in newspapers and at schools, we selected 90 Capetonians from disadvantaged areas to be part of this programme. They received formal training in scarce skills and work experience.

We did this because one of the most important ways to attract investment is by having the skills necessary to grow the economy.

We saw an opportunity to invest in our residents and simultaneously remedy the skills shortage.

The city invested R21.1m in these apprentices, which covered the cost of the salaries earned for the duration of the programme and their theoretical training from Northlink College and False Bay College, as well as their tools and equipment.

The graduates came from areas such as Ocean View, Samora Machel, Lotus River, Philippi, Mitchells Plain, Bonteheuwel and Khayelitsha.

The decision to focus on these areas stems from our strong commitment to redress the legacy of the past and to give the people of our city a chance to determine their own futures.

Apprentices graduated as diesel mechanics, fitters, boilermakers, auto electricians, plumbers, carpenters and bricklayers, and most of them were employed by the City.

I also visited the innovative Zoe Incubation Academy in Delft, which, with support from the City, is training young Capetonians at the first community-based call centre in Cape Town.

The incubation academy is creating a steady pipeline of highly skilled individuals who can be placed in any call centre across the city. It is taking opportunities to where young people live.

The business process outsourcing sector is one of the fastest growing and biggest job creators in Cape Town – creating 51 300 jobs in the Western Cape, mostly in city.

This state-of-the-art academy and call centre has the potential to disrupt the business process outsourcing sector with its innovative approach to technology and decentralised call centre, which is located closer to where people live rather than requiring expensive office space.

Our role is to create an enabling environment for economic growth and job creation.

All of our efforts are just some examples of how we can build ladders for our young people to climb out of poverty into employment.

Throughout society, we need to work more closely to address access to our education system and to empower youth with skills. The task is too great for one sector to tackle on its own.

Consider this – we are often told to “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps”, but unless society builds the ladders to move upwards, many of our youth and their children won’t have the straps to pull themselves up and out of unemployment and poverty by.

De Lille is mayor of Cape Town