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Trends in Youth Unemployment Interventions

On Workers’ Day, I joined a group in a Consciousness Cafe discussion shaped by youth who believed their greatest challenges related to self-esteem.

This compelled me to research if youth interventions address this issue. Civil society, the private sector and government typically shape the nature of interventions targeting youth, yet possibly do so with little, if any, direct input from intended youth beneficiaries.

Youth interventions must match the complexity of their needs. With employment difficulties increasing and compounded by the impacts of an unequal society, complex interventions are required to address youth challenges.

Current Youth Development Features

Youth pointed out that self-esteem problems spanned generations and were not isolated to themselves. They implied this impacted on how they identify their own value and sense of freedom to express an identity both as ordinary citizens and workers. There was also a focus on how cultures are challenged by modernisation, that it may require special legislated considerations.

Let’s take a look at what the research shows and if self-esteem and personal development issues are addressed.

Shaping Interventions

Given the self-esteem conversation, I’m reminded of how complicated South African youth are and the massive challenges they face when attempting to cross the employment divide.

A low self-esteem implies you’d be a poor negotiator and may find yourself exploited in the labour market. It could also mean you limit yourself to a comfort zone and avoid challenges that could make you stand out and be noticed.

According to the Siyakha Report, we can group interventions addressing youth unemployment into four broad categories: 

  1. Increasing employability

Interventions include:

  • developing human capabilities through technical and social skills
  • strengthening youth’s social capital
  • providing entrepreneurship or small business development e.g. small business incubators
  • job skilling

Personal development issues such as self-esteem, career pathing and planning could easily be incorporated here as it’s relevant to securing employment, particularly social capital.

2. Job Creation


  • Increasing the demand for young workers
  • Creating and making programmes addressing youth development available eg: public works, skills development

3. Labour Market Opportunity

  • Decreasing labour market barriers
  • Increasing access to educational opportunities at strategic points to facilitate a pathway for young people as they exit the school system.
  • Employment support services such as improving information flows about labour market opportunities and connecting unemployed youth to work opportunities (Graham 2014; Dieltiens 2015 cited in Siyakha).
  • Interventions that decrease job search costs by providing transport subsidies etc
  • Improve work-readiness through gaining work experience  (learnerships, apprenticeships, internships etc.)

4. Financial Literacy

  • Address developing knowledge of financial literacy and access to saving for further education and training. The lack of  financial literacy competencies limit their financial capabilities and achievement of assets.
  • Although fewer youth employability programmes (YEPs) offer financial education programmes, this innovation has been tested in other developing countries to promote financial inclusion and a culture of savings among youth to reduce risk, smooth consumption and support job search activities.
    Initiatives like this need diverse stakeholders, state and non-state, in reducing youth unemployment rates.

Evidence-based social interventions that could counter past and continuing patterns of social and economic exclusion that underlie youth unemployment are, however, sorely needed.

  • Evidence-based social interventions to counter past and continuing patterns of social and economic exclusion underlying youth unemployment are required. This is where issues related to self esteem could be dealt with.

In conclusion, we need to look at how we address (their) youth concerns as opposed to only understanding them in terms of market related pressures. If issues related to self-esteem is a key challenge among youth,  it can negatively impact how they select and pursue opportunities.


SIYAKHA YOUTH ASSETS Youth assets for employability: An evaluation of youth employability interventions


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