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  • Matt Spencer

The Rise of the Unemployed Graduates: Who/What is to Blame?

Updated: Apr 3

For decades, young people have been taught that education is the way forward, unlocking many doors in the hallway of success. And this is true. Education is tantamount to growth. At a tertiary level, the learning one does is not only at a professional level but also on a personal level.  At the same time, however, the rising unemployment statistics in South Africa, and Africa in general, cast many questions as to whether universities adequately prepare students for the job market. In 2017, there are an estimated 9.3 million unemployed citizens in South Africa, of which 6 million are those under the age of 35. And the number keeps growing, adversely affecting our graduates.

The reasons why:

One of the reasons for this is a result of a large disconnect in what and how universities teach and the experience of actually working in the job market. University courses tend to be theoretically heavy, with very little practical experience and/or teachings provided. Furthermore, the very structure of exams and testing, in itself, often focuses more on a person’s ability to memorize their coursework than their ability to take the information in and apply it to different situations. This has been shown to be one of the least effective methods of learning. The result of this is that students can easily parrot the theory of their given field, but often have little understanding of how to apply it in their daily job. Effective learning requires space for reflection, active participation and the application of new concepts and skills. This learning method is not as favoured at a tertiary level as it should be, resulting in unprepared graduates. Philips Vilikazi, marketing manager of the South African Graduates Development Association, states that “The shortage of skills versus the labour market and also the fact that some graduates are qualified but not yet ready for the labour market are some of the contributing factors to the high unemployment rate in South Africa,”.


The reality of the job market:

Another reason for the rising unemployment levels is the lack of adequate growth in the job market. Quite simply, there are not enough jobs to accommodate society. While there is an increase in job opportunities, it is eclipsed by the number of job seekers. In early 2017, the unemployment rate was 27.7%, the lowest South Africa has seen since 2003. That is 9.3 million people looking for work at this very moment.


Unemployment has a dismal cause and effect relationship with society. The poverty trend of 2006-2015 found that over half of South African society is living in poverty. That’s 30.4 million South Africans (55.5%), more than double the 27.3 million statistic of 2011. As the cost of living increases, this frightening statistic worsens. The unemployment rate in the 15-24 and 25-34 year age groups is steadily increasing. Of those 9.3 million unemployed, 6 million are under the age of 35. Stanlib chief economist Kevin Lings says, “Clearly, the rate of youth unemployment has become a national crisis, with significant social, economic and political implications,”


A day in the life of an unemployed graduate:

In the meantime, unemployed graduates are feeling the effects of this statistic every day. There is growing despondency amongst the youth as a result of the restricted opportunities available. Some have even gone to great lengths to protest this, taking matters into their own hands. Earlier in the year, the Hire A Graduate campaign was born, in which quite a few graduates took to the streets in the Eastern Cape, posing with signboards promoting their qualifications in hopes that their future employer might drive past. The campaign’s chairperson Siphamandla Khasag says: “Our main motive is to bring back the dignity of education. High school pupils are no longer motivated to go to university or college because they can see a high number of graduates who are unemployed.”


What do you think? What are the practical steps we can take to change the future of our graduates? Let us know in the comments below.

Any graduates looking for work but lacking experience, read our blog for some handy tips on how to land the job.


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