Address by Marius Llewellyn Fransman, MP, Deputy Minister of International Relations and Cooperation delivered on the occasion of the Youth Roundtable: Youth Action for Economic Freedom in our Lifetime Enhancing SA Skills, Thursday 16th June 2011, Washington DC, USA.

His Excellency Ambassador Rasool
Representatives of Youth and Young Professionals
Panelists and guests
Ladies and gentlemen;

We are gathered today to commemorate and celebrate Youth Day cognizant of two very stark realities. The first is our acknowledgement of the great catalyst that that day on June 16th 1976 in Soweto has played in inspiring generations of young people in the Anti-Apartheid struggle to take action-even at the expense of sacrificing their lives. The killing of Hector Petersen is today firmly etched in the annals of liberation history along with other bold and brave young people who have sacrificed life and limb for freedom such as Solomon Mahlangu, Basil February, Anton Fransch, Robbie Waterwich, and Colline Williams.

The second stark reality that we are confronted by is that the immense sacrifices that these young people have made still remain a task incomplete as millions of young South Africans, Africans and young people the world over still languish in dire poverty and economic deprivation. We have a historic responsibility and a burden of debt to ourselves and the gallant struggles of those whom have gone ahead of us, to strive for economic liberation; to dream of new possibilities and a new dawn even at the moments when that possibility seems quite distant and remote.

What better example of such a revolutionary life and inspiring attitude than that of a young Solomon Mahlangu who 30 years ago was sentenced to death by the Apartheid regime and when marched to the gallows to be hung uttered his final words saying” :”My blood will nourish the tree that will bear the fruits of freedom. Tell my people that I love them. They must continue the fight.”

That message today must move young people to the realization that whilst we have managed to free ourselves from colonialism and apartheid we
have yet to free ourselves entirely from economic oppression;
there is a greater need to invest in our future through empowerment and
leadership of the youth, indeed we must continue the fight.

When one takes into account that our youth make up about 62% of the  population in Africa, we realize that Solomon Mahlangu’s call to continue the fight, is indeed a call to respond to the plight of the majority of the people of this continent. The depth of the crisis that we face is reflected in the Draft Concept Paper in preparation for the July 2011 Summit, that indicates that more than half of these young people live on less than 2 USD a day, while 6000 of them are infected with HIV/AIDS every day, mostly girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.  It is therefore appropriate that the AU is particularly concerned that if these challenges are not addressed with vigour, the youth will continue to be vulnerable and become weak, thus delaying the continent’s economic growth.

Youth all over the world are staring a crisis of mammoth proportions in the face. According to an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report released in August 2010, At the end of 2009, there were an estimated 81 million unemployed young people in the world. This was 7.8 million more than the number in 2007 at the start of the global crisis. The youth unemployment rate rose sharply during the economic crisis – more sharply than ever before – from 11.9 to 13.0 per cent. This report forecasted a continued increase in the youth unemployment rate in 2010 to 13.1 per cent, followed by a moderate decline this year in 2011.

 

This same report cites the fact that “Young people suffer disproportionately from decent work deficits, measured in terms of working poverty and employment status. Evidence shows that young people have a higher likelihood than adults of being among the working poor. An estimated 152 million young workers were living in poor households (with per-capita expenditure below US$1.25 a day) in 2008, down from 234 million young working poor in 1998. The working poverty rate at US$1.25 among youth (share of working poor youth in total youth employment) was 28.1 per cent in 2008. Young people therefore accounted for 24.0 per cent of the world’s total working poor, versus 18.1 per cent of total global employment in 2008.

The higher labour force participation rates of the young working poor, most of which are engaged in the agricultural sector, reflect lost opportunities for many of the youth who might otherwise attend school and acquire skills and education that could raise their future productivity and potential earnings. Many young working poor lacked even a primary-level education.

If what is said about working poor youth is true, can you imagine what life must be like for unemployed and unemployable young people. Studies have shown that youth unemployment and situations in which young people give up on the job search or work under inadequate conditions, incur costs to the economy, to society and to the individual and their family. A lack of decent work, if experienced at an early age, threatens to compromise a person’s future employment prospects and frequently leads to unsuitable labour behaviour patterns that last a lifetime.

These studies also show that there is a demonstrated link between youth unemployment and social exclusion. An inability to find employment creates a sense of uselessness and idleness among young people that can lead to increased crime, mental health problems, violence, conflicts and drug taking. The most obvious gains then, in making the most of the productive potential of youth and ensuring the availability of decent employment opportunities for youth, are the personal gains to the young people themselves.

The second obvious gain to recapturing the productive potential of underutilized youth is an economic one. Idleness among youth can come at great costs. They are not contributing to the economic welfare of the country – quite the contrary. The loss of income among the younger generation translates into a lack of savings as well as a loss of aggregate demand or spending power. Some youth who are unable to earn their own income have to be financially supported by the family, leaving less for spending and investments at the household level. Societies lose their investment in education. Governments fail to receive contributions to social security systems and are forced to increase spending on remedial services, including on crime or drug use prevention efforts and on unemployment benefits in the countries where they exist. All this is a threat to the growth and development potential of economies. Focusing on youth, therefore, makes sense to a country from a cost-benefit point of view. Young people might lack experience but they tend to be highly motivated and capable of offering new ideas or insights. They are the drivers of economic development in a country. Foregoing this potential is an economic waste.

It goes without saying that if we are going to be successful in our attempts to reach the fullest economic potential as a nation, continent and world community, we will have to consider making serious investment into educating, training and skilling our young people. This is a necessary requisite for the global development agenda as well as securing the welfare and future of young people.

UNESCO reports that “Throughout the world it has been found that the probability of finding employment rises with higher levels of education, and that earnings are higher for people with higher levels. A better educated household is less likely to be poor.”32

It is therefore important to develop a profound understanding of the barriers and challenges that youth face so that we may respond appropriately. These barriers cover four broad areas. Firstly, Skills mismatch i.e. Youth have skills that either don’t match or are inadequate for what is needed in the job market.  This includes both technical and non-technical skills, hard skills as well as soft skills. For example, a  recent study of the Youth Employment Network and the International Youth Foundation shows that lack of life skills, lack of initiative and insufficient literacy skills were seen as the primary constraints when hiring young workers in Ghana and Senegal.(2009)

Secondly, there is an increasing phenomenon of discrimination of employers towards youth. Lack of job experience, insufficient exposure to a working environment and negative stereotypes often take their toll on youth. These entry constraints translate into higher probabilities of working part time or working informally and therefore receiving lower wages than adults. These facts intensify under economic recessions, when youth are additionally the first penalized when employers determine lay-offs on the basis of seniority.

Although there is a pervasive perception that young people today have less phobia for technology and hence should technically be able to better access information about employment, skills development and training, the reality and empirical evidence shows otherwise. This is as true of urban youth as of their rural counterparts.

The reason for this is because the technology and techniques of job search create information gaps between jobseekers and potential employers. Inadequate job matching leads to sub-optimal job allocations, especially among the most disadvantaged jobseekers that lack access to job networks and social capital. Job seekers also lack the channels to inform prospective employers of their level of skills. In many countries, particularly developing ones, acquiring a degree does not mean much in the labour market if employers are not aware of what the degree means in terms of skills level or such degree is poorly structured in terms of enhancing a candidates suitability in the jobs market.

Lastly, many aspirant entrepreneurs are dead in their starting blocks, or face a high level of attrition/death within the first three years of start-up. Some of the most significant barriers in the creation and development of businesses, is gaining access to financial, physical, and social capital. This is especially compounded when such ventures are driven need and survival rather that choice. Entrepreneurs by necessity choose entrepreneurial activities as a response to either an opportunity in the market or the entrepreneurial spirit to start a business-the furthest thing from the minds of most young people is thought about how to address the lack of personal savings and resources, lack of securities and credibility, lack of business experience and skills.

So what is to be done-I think that you would all agree with me that given the scale of the problem what we require is a whole paradigm shift-one that thinks about the problem in a different way. As Einstein said:“you cannot solve a problem at the same level of thinking at which it was created.” Here young people in particular, and those who are still young at heart and mind equally so, have the responsibility to think and dream solutions. We have to think at a different level and scale. So for example earlier this week President Obama announced the initiative by the Jobs and Competitiveness Council that he appointed from the private and public sector, to create 10 000 high tech and engineering jobs per year. We need more of this type of initiative in terms of scale, difference in approach as well cooperation between private and public sectors.

A second area, is creating an enabling environment for young people to enhance their educations, skills, and training. This must include measures that make provision for addressing the plight of youth, moving them from unemployability to enhanced skill and the opportunity to explore their entrepreneurial ambitions.
A third area is what I would call a skills marshall plan. If our problem is a million or more unemployed and unemployable youth then creating a few jobs and upskilling opportunities won’t do the trick, in fact it will just be farting into a gale force wind. We must mount a campaign that captures the imagination of young and unemployed people one that unleashes the creative and productive genius in ways that contribute to economic growth and stimulate further downstream economic activity.
Fourthly, we require bold actions towards building a culture of lifelong learning. Successful countries of the north build their sustainability on long term investment in research, education and skilling and re-skilling. The aim is to always remain at the cutting edge of development within any given targeted sector.

Fifthly, for us to truly realize our vision of youth action for economic freedom in our lifetime requires that we break down the culture of dependency and in its place lay a strong edifice of entrepreneurship. Only when the majority of our economically active young people become net contributors to the national fiscus rather than being nett beneficiaries will we begin to see the changes that we aspire fully take root. The attitude of young people must change from what can I get from the system to one that says what can I contribute to uplifting my country, continent, world and its people.

Finally, we must utilize all instruments of state, including our missions abroad to aggressively pursue a youth empowerment agenda-more importantly, is the task of missions to act as enablers for stimulating economic enterprise amongst young people. As we grapple with these solutions and its implementation, Allow me to wish you a happy youth day in the words of the poet:

Count your youth by the flowers
Not by the leaves that fall,
Count your successes by golden hours
Not when life’s worries call
Count your night by stars not shadows
Count your days by smiles not tears
And each day count your age
By friends not years.

I thank you!

 

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