OPINION | 'We could be more if people believed in us'

OPINION | 'We could be more if people believed in us'

On June 16, as we remember and honour the agency of the youth of the 1976 uprising, it is critical that we also honour the lives, actions and aspirations of the current generation of young people.

Decades of research with SA’s youth puts forward one strong message: most youth use their agency, on an almost daily basis, in an attempt to move their lives towards independently taking care of themselves and those around them. But they face enormous barriers and challenges to improve their lives.

So, they need to be supported. As one young research participant in Atlantis, Western Cape, said a few weeks ago: “We could be more if people believed in us.”

The ongoing high unemployment and poverty levels among youth remind us just how difficult it is for young people to reach their aspirations: the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey shows that almost 44% of youths aged 15 to 35 were not employed or in education or training (NEET) in the first three months of this year.

While there is a long road ahead to better educational outcomes and more jobs in SA, that should not delay supporting young people who wish to improve their wellbeing, nurture their skills, and strengthen their employability — even if they are not (yet) able to find an actual job during these challenging times.

Not much attention has been given, in the news headlines, to the recent and unprecedented coming together of government departments, youth development initiatives and research institutions to help put in place interventions to do exactly that.

In August, we will pilot the Basic Package of Support (BPS) for youth programme, which is part of the national Pathway Management Network (PMN), a central component of the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI).

This "network of networks"’, which is driven by the department of employment and labour (DEL), aims to create more jobs and opportunities for youth, drive system changes, and link youth to opportunities and support in a co-ordinated and coherent effort to bring about positive and meaningful change for young people.

We are taking the BPS to Atlantis, in the Western Cape, for a first pilot. Located about 70km from Cape Town’s jobs and other opportunities, young people in the area are talented and hopeful. Yet 59% of its 13,000 young people aged 15-24 years are unemployed (expanded definition). Almost 41% of youth in this age group are NEET and are facing multiple challenges that impact their pathways to sustainable livelihoods.

The BPS programme, in collaboration with Unicef (UN Children's Fund) South Africa, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), the Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town, among others, hopes to turn that around for these young people — even in a context of low economic growth.

The Basic Package of Support, and the network of collaboration in which it is located, promise to strengthen planning and service delivery for youth, and to ensure that young people’s actions to improve their lives do not end in disappointment.

The BPS is an activation and guidance programme that provides integrated, long-term support tailored to the needs of young people who are NEET. It addresses the lived realities of young people, as evidenced by research that involved them throughout the programme design: that they navigate the transition from school to work through trial and error, not knowing how to access services and opportunities, with little or no support or feedback, and under conditions of multidimensional poverty and inequality.

The programme aims to strengthen young people’s agency and improve their self-esteem, self-efficacy, social inclusion, mental health and wellbeing. It also aims to offer them a sense of possibility and belonging, by providing them with problem-solving tools, and linking them to opportunities that can enhance their progress in life.

In practice, this means the BPS will proactively engage youth through youth mobilisers based in the community, set up and support communities of practice of local service providers, and provide a continuum of support to young people.

Young people who enrol in the BPS will be invited for a comprehensive assessment to understand their challenges and their strengths. Then, a trained guidance counsellor will co-develop an individualised action plan that helps each youth to translate longer-term goals into short-term steps. While it is up to the youth to complete these steps towards their future aims, the guidance counsellors remain present for support and referrals to resources and services.

The BPS also incorporates innovative technology. This includes a central case management system that supports the guidance counsellors to follow up on how young people are doing. Also, the SA Youth Explorer — an easy-to-access online tool — maps government facilities for young people and provides verified information on location, accessibility and details of these services, for the use by the guidance counsellors, among others.

Since 2020, and with the support from the PYEI and its partners, large amounts of data on these government services has been gathered and verified. Services mapped so far include labour centres, higher education institutions, social services, NYDA offices, libraries and public health facilities. This information, once consolidated in a central database, will be freely available for use on, for example, youth-facing platforms such as SaYouth.Mobi.

The SA Youth Explorer also contains detailed information on deprivations experienced by SA’s youth across geographical areas. Coupled with the services information, the tool enables a first-level gap analysis of where services match the needs of a local youth population, or not.

This innovation of “mapping the services available to young people in every community, to identify gaps and target our interventions to the areas of greatest need” was referred to by the president in his response to the parliamentary debate on the 2021 state of the nation address.

To refer young people to services that can really help them requires data verification. The first rounds of such verification have been in collaboration with government entities such as the DEL and the NYDA. Starting with the first BPS pilot area, in-person verification of services will also take place.

This survey work is under way in Atlantis. Once the data is added to the SA Youth Explorer, the BPS programme — and other civil society organisations — can use the platform to refer young people to available services in their immediate surroundings and beyond.

The Basic Package of Support, and the network of collaboration in which it is located, promise to strengthen planning and service delivery for youth, and to ensure that young people’s actions to improve their lives do not end in disappointment.

The BPS emerged out of a research consortium led by Prof Ariane De Lannoy (Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town) and Prof Lauren Graham (Centre for the Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg), in partnership with the Capacity Building Programme for Employment Promotion (funded by the EU and based in the Government Technical Advisory Centre) and The Jobs Fund, among others — for more info see here.