South Africa’s unemployment rate is no longer an area of national concern but is rather a national crisis. With an official unemployment rate of 34,9% and 46% of youth between the ages of 15 to 34 not in employment, education or training, there is no time to waste.
While young people face several systemic roadblocks during different phases of their lives, it is not all doom and gloom. As a young South African who meets young people daily and who is actively involved in strengthening South Africa’s youth employment strategy, what gives me comfort is that there is and has been an urgent call to action to address this national crisis.
We have numerous initiatives, organisations and companies all working to boost the creation of jobs for unemployed youth. The Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI), for example, has developed SAYouth, a free zero-rated national platform linking unemployed youth to learning and earning opportunities, and has created two teacher assistant opportunities, designed and implemented by the department of basic education, which have reached 600 000 youth.
Furthermore, the Youth Employment Service (YES) has created more than 70 000 work experience opportunities for young people in less than three years. And in 2021 alone, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) invested in more than 2 000 youth micro-enterprises supporting at least 6 000 jobs.
There are numerous other initiatives and organisations working towards creating and making opportunities visible. But, as young people, we cannot sit idle and wait for opportunities. We also play an important role in tackling this crisis. We cannot give up, and we need to show resilience in the way we seek work opportunities. The question I often get asked is, ‘how can I make myself more employable, even if I’m unemployed?’ The answer is simple. Volunteering is a game changer.
As young people, we have to be proactive and obtain the critical skills needed for employment or entrepreneurship. Volunteering offers us the opportunity to do so. Volunteering is not only about doing good in your community, but also about gaining critical skills needed in the workplace. These experiences can strengthen young people’s standing in the labour market while adding value to their neighbourhoods. Other benefits of volunteering include:
Gaining critical skills: While volunteering you work in numerous settings including workplaces, NGOs and religious institutions. As you work you gain skills that you would get in the formal workplace including time management, stakeholder management, leadership and communication skills. Research conducted by YES in 2020 shows that employers hire for technical skills but fire for soft skills. The critical skills you gain while volunteering are essential soft skills, which enhance your employability.
Building your CV: Society has conditioned us to think that volunteering experience is not needed on a CV. Nothing could be further from the truth. Build your CV by including volunteering experiences and skills gained, in addition to your usual mentions of work experience, education and skills.
Sometimes interviewers take interest in the type of work you did while volunteering. This makes you more relatable because volunteering shows that beyond making money, you do good in society. And as our society expects more and more holistic living beyond materialism, this is an important aspect to portray.
Growing a professional network: Youth Capital’s research shows that a major barrier to finding employment is a lack of networks. Besides the common job search engines such as LinkedIn, Pnet and Indeed, an effective way to find out about employment opportunities is through people you know. Social capital is critical to finding employment. Volunteering gives you the platform to widen your network through connecting with professionals in that particular industry or connecting with other volunteers who are employed and volunteer to do good.
Understanding your passion: Volunteering is an easy way to better understand your passion and interests. While volunteering, you’ll be involved in various roles depending on the organisation. These roles can range from community engagement, administrative tasks, project management and bookkeeping. These roles will allow you to understand your interests and passions, learn more about yourself and guide you on your career path.
So young people, let’s play our part in solving this unemployment crisis by being proactive about enhancing our employability, and bettering our neighbourhoods through volunteering. You can start by visiting your local shelter, your community centre or religious organisations, among others, and ask how you can contribute and grow your skills.
Also look out for volunteering opportunities through the National Youth Service, which aims to empower more than 35 000 unemployed youth through service work in April 2022. Sign up on SAYouth.mobi to find such opportunities.
Through volunteering, we can become employable even if we are unemployed. It allows us to gain critical skills, build our CVs, grow our professional networks and discover our interests. Volunteer and start your future today.
Farai Mubaiwa is the chief partnerships officer at the Youth Employment Service, a business-led nonprofit that works with the government and labour to tackle the youth unemployment crisis and drive youth employability. Mubaiwa is also the co-founder of the youth-led organisation Africa Matters.