by Gary Smith

A hand up

Industry professionals assist unemployed graduates

Qualified but lost to the economy
Unemployed graduates receive assistance

In recent years, there has been an alarming increase in the number of unemployed graduates in South Africa. Statistics show that about 200 000 graduates cannot find a job in the present economic climate. 

This situation has resulted in an increasing realisation that having a degree does not automatically guarantee you work – which is a reality that many young people are encountering. This is a negative situation, not only for the individual graduates, but also for the long-term economic development of the country. 

Many graduates are taking steps to overcome the barriers to employment. Dane, a recent graduate from Cape Town, says that although he had a degree in hospitality, he had to make do with ad-hoc work in that field, wherever it could be found. 

This has not deterred him and he has involved himself in community development in the Eastern Cape. He cited many of his fellow graduates who face a similar predicament – one of whom recently obtained a degree in civil engineering, but could only find employment  by making use of his hobby – teaching deep-sea diving in Taiwan.  

One could reiterate many other cases of graduates who find themselves without work after qualifying in their field. However, there are a number of organisations and companies in the country that have become aware of the problem faced by new graduates and which are reaching out to help develop the wealth of expertise and talent in the country. 

A good example of this is the South African National Zakah Fund (SANZAF). Since its inception in the early 1970s, this Fund has been active in providing financial aid to facilitate the upliftment of disadvantaged communities, selected from all races and denominations. This has meant that over the past few decades, the organisation has provided opportunities for many individuals to further their tertiary education though bursaries.

Many of these elected scholars are today prominent leaders in the country’s business and government sectors. One such individual, Mabela Matlodi Steven, an independent business consultant for the Institute for Corporate Social Development in Johannesburg, was afforded the opportunity to study at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

At the time, Steven was a youngster completing his mainstream schooling, residing in a rural area of South Africa; today, thanks to SANZAF, he has a PhD in Economics from the University of Johannesburg.  

While the national economy has shown significant growth since the country’s first successful democratic election in 1994, organisations such as SANZAF which support government job creation programmes, have been instrumental in addressing this serious problem as well as other socio-economic challenges within South Africa. This year alone, SANZAF has sponsored R8 million worth of bursaries nationally, as well as financing laptop computers that were presented to disadvantaged learners.

While there are organisations that help graduates find employment, new graduates cannot merely rest on their laurels and expect to find work. As many of those who have found employment emphasise, the narrowing field of opportunity for graduate employment has meant that graduates have to be extremely proactive and creative in their search for work. 

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