OPINION: During these uncertain times, our economy is beset with structural challenges of skills mismatch and not growing fast enough to absorb the unemployed.
BY Advocate Mzie Yawa
The latest figures by Statistics South Africa shows that the unemployment rate is continuously climbing, leaving a trail of misery and shattered dreams in its wake.
The uptick from 34.4% to 34.9% in the third quarter of 2021, with young people particularly hardest hit with figures climbing to 66.5% from 64.40% is a serious cause for concern.
In simple words, almost half of the economically active population do not have jobs. It is an untenable situation that enjoins all of us – government, private sector and educational institutions – to come together and find lasting solutions. We can ill-afford the recurrence of the deadly and costly unrest that occurred in July this year. The next one may prove to be devastating.
The Department of Employment and Labour has been entrusted with efforts of fighting unemployment in the country. It is against this background that recently, we embarked on a three-day session to redefine and revamp work done by the Labour Activation Programmes (LAP), which is housed under the Unemployment Insurance Fund’s (UIF).
LAP is one of the department’s flagship programmes that was established to prioritise the creation of employment and business opportunities, skilling and re-skilling of unemployed, and all this is done to combat long-term unemployment and alleviate poverty. It consists of three programmes: Training of the Unemployed (ToU), Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS), and Business Processes Re-Engineering Programme (BPR).
The ToU exists to enhance the employability of unemployed youth and former UIF contributors. It targets 30% of unemployed youth and 70% of unemployed UIF beneficiaries drawn from the Department’s Employment Services of South Africa system.
TERS was established to assist companies in distress and are on the verge of retrenching workers. Under TERS, UIF funds 75% of an employee basic salary up to a maximum amount of R17 119.44 per month for a maximum of 12 months, while the company undergoes a recovery process.
Under BPR, Productivity South Africa assists companies in distress by diagnosing their problem and providing a turn-around solution.
The ultimate goal of LAP is to preserve jobs for those already employed and create employment opportunities for those who are unemployed. Therefore, the revamp workshop was held primarily to realign LAP with the employment mandate of the department. This means that every leaner that goes through our training programmes must ultimately be absorbed in the job market.
The second most important objective of the workshop was to review LAP’s capacity and ability to swiftly respond to the needs of companies in distress and proactively identify opportunities to collaborate with stakeholders in job creation and job preservation initiatives.
The Department’s Director-General, Thobile Lamati, emphasised the imperative that LAP has to deepen the impact in job creation initiatives and re-integrate the unemployed into the labour market, in line with the President’s pledge of employment creation.
He revealed that through the proposed LAP revamp, the Department wants a high degree of efficiency, no matter the model. The focus should not be about institutional arrangement nor the structure but should be about how best to make the programme highly efficient.
We unanimously stressed that training providers or partners who submit proposals to the department must commit to securing job opportunities for the learners before the training programme even commences. This is to avoid investing millions only for learners to end up idling at home.
We also agreed that UIF needs to initiate some of the job creation programmes by collaborating with provincial economic development entities who would normally have identified skills gaps in various sectors within their provinces.
While it is comforting that more than 80 000 individuals have gone through the Labour Activation Programmes since inception, what is disturbing is that we are not sure if the majority of them ended in sustainable employment. However, some of the learners who participated in ToU ended up as scuba divers, pilots, beauty technicians, chefs, commercial farmers, performing artists, and municipal property assessors, just to mention a few.
Despite this success, we have realised that training for the sake of training is not enough. That is why we have set up an objective criterion that is biased towards addressing skills that are required by various industries, with a huge job absorption potential.
We are also going to re-look at the NQF qualification levels of the training programmes because we want our learners to be at a sound competency level that will enable them to be productive from the first day in the job.
We have reviewed our funding agreements to include the job placement clause to ensure that our learners do not sit at home with certificates on the walls but get decent employment. This is the reason why with the new training agreements, we demand that our partners commit to job placements with evidence supplied from prospective employers.
During these uncertain times, our economy is beset with structural challenges of skills mismatch and not growing fast enough to absorb the unemployed. Therefore, it is critical to use our labour market policies such as the LAP to deal with this scourge of unemployment.
For the 2021/2022 financial year, the UIF set has aside R2.4 billion to create and sustain jobs, as well support businesses, Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) and Cooperatives through LAP. Our targets include training 12 000 youth; 41 000 UIF contributors are targeted for job retention or re-employment, as well as supporting SMMEs and establishing 30 cooperatives.
The UIF remains devoted to playing a role in contributing towards poverty alleviation schemes that yield jobs. When the country needed us the most, we rose to the occasion, and during lockdown, we made a difference to five million workers with disbursements of over R63 billion in income support to affected workers. We are also processing claims for workers whose workplaces were affected by the July unrest, and so far, we have disbursed more than R7,3 million to 1 672 workers.
The re-purposing of LAP is a work in progress, but it should be viewed in the same vein as the work we have done in supporting the economy at its weakest. We really do work for the country.
To know about the UIF’s Labour Activation Programmes, please visit www.labour.gov.za
Stay in touch with the UIF on Twitter: @UIFBenefits, Facebook: @UIFZA or the Toll-Free Call Centre on 08000 3000 7.
* Advocate Mzie Yawa is the acting UIF Commissioner
** The views expressed here may not necessarily be that of IOL