Right now, the class of 2021 is preparing for year-end exams. Despite coping with many challenges to get to this point, the past 18 months of staggered and disrupted learning has affected students in different ways. Some may have grown in confidence from adapting to a hybrid learning approach, while others may have become discouraged in their learning altogether. But as many students take steps closer to achieving their career aspirations, struggling to find employment is a stark reality that awaits them.
High levels of youth unemployment have been a stumbling block for the classes and cohorts of previous years. A Community Agency for Social Enquiry (CASE) study conducted in 2000, revealed that unemployment was the single biggest challenge facing young South Africans. Today, more youth are unemployed compared to two decades ago, as the unemployment rate of job-seekers between 15 and 24 years old hit a new record high of 64.4% in Q1 of 2021. The youth were also most affected by job losses in the period between October 2020 and January 2021 – the height of the pandemic’s third wave in South Africa. According to data from the National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), job loss for the youth was more than double (-31%) the job losses for middle-aged adults (-13%), and also considerably higher than for prime-age adults (-19%).
Many young people who are fortunate to still be employed, face mounting threats of retrenchment and redundancy from automation. Over and above the current disruption from lockdown restrictions and subsequent economic shrinkage, technological adoption by business organisations are set to transform tasks, jobs and skills by 2025.
This paints a bleak picture for the majority of South Africa’s youth. But during this time of upheaval, perhaps inspiration should be drawn from Nelson Mandela’s stance on education. Throughout his life, which included 27 long, arduous years of imprisonment, the late Father of South Africa’s democracy made a point of keeping himself educated, no matter how difficult his circumstances. Tata Madiba saw the value that education and lifelong learning offered and instilled this in those around him.
In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela says: “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine; that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation. It is what we make out of what we have, not what we are given, that separates one person from another.”
Being educated is an enabling and powerful tool for upliftment and change, not to mention a huge privilege and accomplishment.But at the same time, it shouldn’t be viewed as a rite of passage where one is entitled to a job. As new roles begin to emerge, lifelong learning – specifically pursuing postgraduate studies – holds the key for young people to be empowered and always relevant by evolving with an ever-changing working world.
As part of our Vision2030, Nelson Mandela University aims to liberate human potential through innovative and human-centered lifelong learning experiences that prepare graduates to be socially conscious, responsible global citizens who serve the public good.