Let’s Offer Young People A National Civilian Service

At 50%, South Africa has the highest youth unemployment in the world. Compounding this problem is that the longer young people remain unemployed, the more unemployable they become. Make no mistake, this is a crisis. Economic disengagement has led to political disengagement. A larger proportion of young people are not registered to vote. Where there should be constructive hope, there is destructive despair.

My heart aches for the millions of young South Africans who, having suffered through a dysfunctional schooling system and obtained their long sought-after matriculation certificate, find they are locked out of the job market. Like crawling to the end of a very long tunnel to escape imprisonment and finding bars over the opening.

South Africa’s job market is a hostile place for a hopeful new entrant with little to offer in terms of skills and nothing at all to offer in terms of work experience. There’s so much we can do to turn despair back into hope.

I don’t think one can overstate the importance of work experience to young school-leavers who are not able to go on to tertiary education. It builds confidence and imparts practical skills while also embedding a culture of work and self-reliance.

Experience is one of the key requirements that many young South Africans lack when trying to enter the workplace. And all too many of them have grown up in homes in which not a single adult has a job. So they’ve had pitifully little exposure to the world of work.

In national government, the DA would introduce a voluntary National Civilian Service year to give South Africa’s youth a soft landing into the workplace. I believe this will be a critical and invaluable programme in our mission to build a South Africa that offers all citizens opportunities for learning and earning.

Ideally, all young school-leavers who don’t go on to post-school study should have access to an internship or apprenticeship of sorts. But the reality is that there are simply not enough internships or voluntary programmes available to provide all of them with work experience which they can in turn use to enter the labour force.

The DA believes that the state can play an important role in bridging this gap. Not only would a voluntary National Civilian Service year provide young South Africans with work experience, it will also offer them the opportunity to serve our country.

As set out in the DA’s election manifesto, we envisage that a National Civilian Service year will be offered to every matriculant who doesn’t qualify for tertiary education – approximately 80,000 young people every year. The service provided to the country, or his or her community, will be in return for a stipend and valuable work experience.

We envisage that these will be in an area of the public sector where there is a clearly defined need, such as the police force, education and healthcare. In many cases, the programme will provide a “springboard” for further opportunities in the beneficiary’s chosen sector.

The programme will initially pilot three streams.

An education stream will be geared to providing under served schools with teacher assistance with sports coaching, cultural initiatives and extra supervision.

Some participants of this course will also partake in basic educator skills courses such as early childhood development programmes. This stream would look to identify a number of successful candidates who could undergo bridging courses to study further teaching degrees and diplomas – filling a much-needed skills gap in our country.

A healthcare stream will be geared to providing administrative assistance to clinics and public hospitals across the country. Participants of this stream will be enrolled in one-year community health worker qualification programmes, ensuring they will be qualified community health workers by the end of the programme.

Top performers will receive bridging support and scholarships to

study as qualified nurses to feed back into the skills-deprived public health service.

Finally, a police academy stream will place participants in newly established police academies across the country. They will join members of local law enforcement on daily patrols to gain an understanding of the role of law enforcement in the community. Some will be trained to become certified police officers.

A voluntary National Civilian Service year places young people at the centre of the DA’s agenda to put a job in every home and build a country where opportunities are open to all. It would be complemented with a range of policies to grow the economy and create sustainable jobs and apprenticeships in the private sector, as set out in our manifesto. 

  • Mmusi Maimane is leader of Democratic Alliance.

OPINION: Mmusi Maimane