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This article is taken from the March 2002 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

Unemployed youth in the Eastern Free State: implications of an integrated youth development approach to youth SMME learnerships

In Volume 3 Issue 1 of Phatlalatsa, we reported that S&T had won a tender to help profile the youth target market in the Eastern Free State for an SMME learnership. S&T partner Jowie Mulaudzi presents some of the findings and some of the implications.

Profiling the target market

The profiling exercise comprised (a) re-analysing Census '96 1 data to draw a composite picture of general living conditions in the target area - Maluti-a-Phufung District Council (combining Harrismith, Bethlehem and Qwaqwa), the specific circumstances of youth in the area and (b) conducting focus group discussions with young people in the respective areas.
Notwithstanding the limitations of the data - re-analysing census data which is not youth-focused, and the qualitative nature of focus group data - we were nonetheless able to gain insights into the general life situation of the youth as well as their experiences in small, micro and medium enterprises (SMME).

Observations

  • The target market lived in households that were slightly larger than the national average and a significant number lived in traditional dwellings.
  • On the whole, and reflecting the rural nature of the target area, most households were poorer than the average South African household. Access to sanitation, water and refuse removal services was limited. The use of candles for lighting amongst the majority of households was significant for the Learnership, as it pointed to other services and facilities that the Learnership may have to make provision for or facilitate.
  • Formal employment has been declining with mines closing down and/or shedding jobs.
  • Very few youth - male or female - have post matric qualifications.
  • High levels of frustration exist over the inability of those with post-matric qualifications to access the labour market and militate against a strong belief in education as the key to success.
  • Some youth had experience of business. For example they indicated that some of their failures were caused by over-saturation of the "market" or lack of cash flow management etc. - but most had no exposure to the labour market at all.

Work experience

The situation of young people in this region does not differ significantly from that of youth in other areas. Lack of appropriate experience in the market place is a serious disadvantage that young people face when they seek to enter the labour market. Diminishing intake of students in institutions of higher learning is borne out by trends in statistics that suggest a drop in the proportions of young people acquiring further training and skills.

Designing and delivering training courses that provide young people with skills and certificates may be a viable solution to the problem of skills acquisition. The challenge is that merely providing young people with certificates and qualifications without looking into and addressing their other needs has proved to be unsustainable.

The lack of technical skills is but one in a myriad of factors that puts many youth into the marginalised category. Programmes that aim to give young people skills should also equip them to deal with non-technical challenges in order to be better able to engage in productive community life. Life-skills become a critical component of any youth programme. Life-skills do not comprise a homogenous programme (although this impression is often given); rather, as with any other skills programme there are different levels reflecting the competencies of the group concerned.

Perceptions of young people in relation to programme design

Another important factor in the design of an integrated youth development programme is the designers' perceptions about young people. The critique levelled against a community development approach that treats beneficiaries as passive recipients should also be heeded in youth programmes. There seems to have been an on-going underlying assumption that youth development is about pouring resources into young people who are ignorant of their needs and unable to act appropriately to secure them. This assumption is not only wrong, it can also lead to fundamental flaws in the design and delivery of youth development programmes.

In other words, your starting point may be to see young people as empty vessels needing to be "trained"; or you may see young people as possessing skills and knowledge that need to be enhanced, redirected or refined as part of the learning process. The same skills might be provided in both instances - but the result would be different.

  • The former may lead to well-intentioned programmes that patronise and undermine the young persons' prior experience and learning. At best, the programme trains a young person who has the technical skills but lack the know-how in applying the skills acquired or coping with life pressures and challenges.
  • The latter incorporates the young person's prior learning and experiences and also seeks to address - directly or indirectly - needs in other spheres of their life and development. Acknowledging and affirming prior learning and using such experiences as a frame of reference in training is more likely to facilitate the learning process.

Integrated youth development and its implications for the learnership

While youth practitioners have various approaches to design and programming there is growing consensus on the need for an integrated approach to youth development. This would combine both the imparting of skills and competencies to young people with provision (direct or indirect) of support that addresses non-technical needs of participants.

For the Eastern Free State learnership programme, the challenge is in targeting and channelling young people into the programme. Should the programme recruit more young women with the responsibilities they have, hoping to touch more lives this way? Or should it be have more young people from rural areas where productive formal economic activities are almost non-existent? These are questions that the designers of the programme should decide on.

An integrated approach to youth development dictates that prior experience of young people should be acknowledged and harnessed in the provision of business development skills and experience. As indicated before, young people have had some experience in survivalist enterprises. The challenge is for the programme to harness these in the teaching and delivery of business skills through the learnership.

The programme should also develop strong and functional relationships with support structures that will work together with the young people to sustain benefits/gains from the programme within communities and help them better cope with challenges brought on by the environment they will be operating in.

1 Census 96 data was used because it is the only recent data-set where analysis can be done at a regional level.

 

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