Youth unemployment remains one of the most vexing problems facing Swaziland. Numerous ideas, models and policy initiatives have been proposed and/or tried out but in vain. […]
Youth unemployment remains one of the most vexing problems facing Swaziland. Numerous ideas, models and policy initiatives have been proposed and/or tried out but in vain.
The country adopted its first National Youth Policy in 2009, ratified the African Youth Charter in 2013 and has developed public policies in areas such as education and training (2010), gender (2010), disability (2013), and sexual and reproductive health (2013). In the same period, Swaziland has adopted a number of international frameworks, and worked with international organisations to develop programmes that seek to improve the lives of young people. Yet the problem persists. Swazi nationals and other observers look up to Government to create a conducive environment for the private-sector to create employment, not only for the youth but also for other age groups.
The question arises as to whether the policies that are developed and the institutions that are set can adequately help to address the situation.
The International Labour Organization has warned of a ‘scarred generation of young people’ who are failing to engage in meaningful development as they sit idle, neither employed, studying nor seeking work. This is especially concerning in Swaziland where as per statistics obtained from the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, broadly-defined unemployment amongst 15 to 24 year-olds is estimated at slightly more than 50 percent. The data demonstrates that young people, particularly in rural areas, are disproportionately affected by the challenge of unemployment, and the gap appears to be widening. Given that relatively few jobs are available in rural areas, looking for a job implies travelling to other areas, specifically to urban areas to seek employment opportunities. For someone unemployed, this can be very expensive, so many young people cannot afford to look for employment. For this reason, the income of the poor rural households where these unemployed young people live comes under scrutiny. Since social grants are a key source of income in such poor households, the following, perhaps surprising, question arises: what role could, or do, social grants play in alleviating this problem? Even though the social-grants system is based on other considerations, could its impact on household income possibly extend benefits to work-seeking youths?
More than half of Swazi young people aged 15-24 live in households with a per capita monthly income of less than E600 (the ‘upper bound poverty line’). Many lack access to information as they are unable to afford the high costs of data for the use of mobile phones, or the fees at the Internet cafés that would allow them to search for job opportunities or for application details. Further, unlike their middle-class peers, poorer young people lack ‘productive social capital’, that is, social networks that can be used for information about and access to the labour market. These are important for navigating their entry into the labour market.
Why are we not making progress? A multifaceted challenge
Why is youth unemployment in Swaziland such a seemingly intractable problem? The evidence suggests that it is a multifaceted problem driven by structural elements related to the labour market and the education system, as well as community, household and individual level issues. To understand the youth unemployment challenge better, there is need to consider what is happening at all of these levels. A composite picture of the issue may point in the direction of deliberate policy interventions which aim to adequately prepare those seeking employment to enter the job market. Where this has been applied, the result has been a higher absorption of skilled workers into the labour market. According to the 2013 Labour Survey Report, less than 50 000 Swazis have been to university, and this has contributed immensely to the high youth unemployment rate that Swaziland is currently experiencing.
The youth unemployment challenge may also be largely attributed to the evolving nature of the labour market and mismatches within the education system. Research findings indicate that a key difficulty facing young job seekers in particular is the fact that Swaziland’s labour market favours old employees. The country’s Labour Survey Report asserts that young university graduates applying for the same job with graduates who exited the institute of higher learning at an earlier date are 70 percent less likely to be successful in securing the same job.
The Voice of Business and its members are of the view that the policies and investments in education are not producing the desired skills outcomes. Employers continue to indicate that skills deficit is a major challenge to youth employment in Swaziland. The Voice of Business calls for a review of the education budget to ensure that a higher proportion of the funding is allotted to technical and vocational education and training. This would ensure that in addition to tertiary level education, young people receive adequate vocational training, which matches the expectations of the employment market.