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 Nelly Mohale | 28 June 2024

As we celebrate Youth Month in South Africa, a critical question arises: are we truly doing enough to support and uplift the youth? While significant strides have been made since the advent of democracy, the complexities of youth development require an ongoing, multifaceted approach. To answer this question, it's crucial to explore the initiatives put in place, assess the opportunities available, and consider the role of awareness among the youth.

Government initiatives for youth empowerment

The South African government has introduced various programmes aimed at supporting young people in education, employment and entrepreneurship. Key initiatives include:

  1. National Youth Development Agency (NYDA): At the forefront of youth development, NYDA offers crucial support through funding for small businesses, skills development programmes, and career guidance. Its grants have provided vital financial assistance to budding young entrepreneurs.

  2. Youth Employment Service (YES): Established in 2018, YES represents a collaborative effort between government, business, and labour to generate job opportunities for the youth. By incentivising businesses to hire young talent, YES has successfully created over 55,000 work experiences in its inaugural year alone, significantly enhancing youth employability.

  3. Education and training: The government's commitment to education is evident through initiatives like the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which provides financial support for tertiary education, and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, which equip students with practical skills essential for today's job market.

Opportunities for the youth

Despite these initiatives, many young South Africans remain unaware of the available opportunities. Increasing awareness and accessibility is paramount. Here are some of the key opportunities:

  1. Entrepreneurial support: Programmes such as NYDA's business grants, complemented by mentorship and training, serve as springboards for aspiring young entrepreneurs. Platforms like the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (SEFA) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) also offer critical financial support.

  2. Internships and learnerships: Companies nationwide offer internships and learnerships designed to provide invaluable work experience and practical skills. For instance, initiatives within the banking sector, such as FNB's learnership programme, contribute significantly to grooming young professionals.

  3. Skills development programmes: The Skills Development Act mandates investment in skills development across sectors, leading to a proliferation of training opportunities in industries ranging from ICT to renewable energy. Youth should be aware of their ability to inquire about skills development opportunities with their employers, as these programmes often come with incentivised tax breaks. This knowledge empowers them to effectively advocate for such opportunities, fostering a mutually beneficial environment for both employers and employees.

Currently, there are two main tax break incentives that employers can benefit from in relation to skills development in South Africa:

  1. Skills Development Levy (SDL) Deduction: Employers can claim a deduction from their income tax for paying the SDL, which is 1% of the total monthly salaries paid to employees. Employers submitting a workplace skills plan and an annual training report to their Sector Education and Training Authority (SETA) can claim up to 20% of their leviable amount as a deduction. SETAs manage skills development funds and provide training programmes and grants.

  2. Learnership allowance: Employers can claim an allowance from their income tax for registered learnership agreements with employees or unemployed persons. A learnership is a work-based programme leading to a recognised qualification on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). The agreement, involving the employer, learner, and training provider, sets the learnership terms. Employers can claim two types of allowances for each agreement namely, a commencement allowance and completion allowance.

Awareness and accessibility

A significant challenge persists in ensuring that our youth are not only aware of these opportunities but can also readily access them. South Africa's youth comprise a third of our 62 million-strong population, yet studies show that only 32% of the youth are knowledgeable about initiatives and programmes designed to assist them. This lack of awareness is particularly critical amidst the high unemployment rates and economic challenges facing our youth.

The way forward

While commendable strides have been made, the journey towards youth empowerment remains unfinished. Effective implementation of existing initiatives hinges on bolstering awareness and accessibility. Strengthened collaboration among stakeholders, enhanced communication strategies, and improved information dissemination can narrow the gap between opportunities and our youth.

Moreover, addressing systemic barriers — such as inequality, poverty, and inadequate infrastructure — remains pivotal. By dismantling these obstacles, we can amplify the impact of youth programmes, ensuring that every young South African has the chance to thrive.

While our government and private sector partners have laid a robust foundation, achieving comprehensive youth empowerment demands sustained, collective effort. Let us honour the spirit of Youth Month by reaffirming our commitment to a future where every young South African can contribute to and benefit from our nation's prosperity.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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