By Carol Brandt, Metallurgy Training Manager at PRISMA Training Solutions, a member of the Workforce Training and Consulting Group
Youth unemployment is a longstanding issue for South Africa, and one which was made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns. The mining industry has a pivotal role to play in solving this crisis. As one of the largest economic sectors in the country, it employs many people, and additionally creates an entire value chain of peripheral services. Getting the youth involved in mining and related industries will not only benefit mines, but help to lessen youth unemployment, upskill vulnerable members of society, and contribute positively toward economic growth.
Youth unemployment an old problem
According to the Q4 2020 Quarterly Labour Force Survey from Stats SA, the percentage of young persons aged 15–34 years who were not in employment, education or training (NEET) increased by 1,7 percentage points from 40,1% in Q4: 2019, to 41,8% in Q4: 2020. This is not a new challenge, however, as a report released at the beginning of 2020 highlights: “The persistently high youth unemployment rate has long been one of the most pressing socio-economic problems in South Africa. Some of the young work-seekers are not well educated and do not possess sufficient skills and previous work experience demanded by employers in the labour market.” The high levels of unemployment create discouraged job seekers, who are unable to participate in economic activity, and therefore exacerbate existing low economic growth in the country.
The lockdowns of 2020 also had a negative impact on the mining sector, which was forced to shut down. However, it was also one of the first industries to reopen, and has also enjoyed a commodities boom in iron, platinum and gold over the last decade. This means that the mining sector is well positioned to be an employer of choice for the youth, as well as offering mentorship and skills development programs. There are a wide variety of different careers available, from mining and metallurgy to mineral resource management, finance and administration, to name a few.
In addition, the mining industry creates a value chain beginning with the manufacture of machines and equipment, ending in the manufacture of goods from raw materials. The peripheral industries such as housing and food supply are also areas where people need to be employed. With such a vast supply chain, there are many opportunities for youth employment, especially given that a younger workforce is generally healthier and more able-bodied, which is an important factor for many mining-related tasks. Furthermore, as the use of technology increases, a younger workforce will be in a better position to use and exploit this, benefiting the mines with innovative new methods and techniques.
Working together to turn the tide
The historical method of studying prior to employment is becoming increasingly irrelevant in today’s world. To reduce unemployment and get the youth active in the labour force and the economy, we need to shift toward outcomes-based qualifications This will enable learners to develop skills while they work and earn an income. Training providers and mines also need to work together to better communicate the available opportunities and collaborate on accredited training programs through mining SETAs.
Financial resources are often the biggest barrier to entry for youth when it comes to obtaining qualifications for the job market. Being employed in the mining sector and gaining experience while completing qualifications that can take the learner from entry level through to middle management, enables learning and economic empowerment at the same time.
Training providers need to offer training solutions that develop a career path, not just a collection of unrelated short learning courses. Mines need to also focus on those career paths and on skills development in related industries such as construction and entrepreneurship.
The key is to create career opportunities for youth to learn while they earn, which will not only help to reduce youth unemployment, but benefit the mining sector and boost South Africa’s economy as well.