THULAS NXESI | Various interventions set in motion as SA tries to mitigate unemployment

Government has to directly alleviate the impact of joblessness through social protection measures and demand-led training

Gauteng youth gathered at the Dobsonville Stadium in February during the handover of appointment letters to 3,200 youth brigades under the Nasi iSpani recruitment project.
Gauteng youth gathered at the Dobsonville Stadium in February during the handover of appointment letters to 3,200 youth brigades under the Nasi iSpani recruitment project.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

I believe  we can all agree that, at the end of the day, a decisive reduction in the unacceptably high level of unemployment is dependent on higher economic growth resulting in more jobs.

This process is led by business investing in the private sector with resultant economic development and rising employment.

 As President Cyril Ramaphosa has argued, the government as the largest employer in the country and a large-scale procurer of goods and services, has a major role to play – both to create an environment conducive to investment, growth and development. It also has to directly mitigate the impact of unemployment through social protection measures, demand-led training, targeted job creation and preservation.

To this end, the government has strived to strengthen and expand its programmes for skills development and job creation, particularly in respect of the youth, seeking to mobilise and coordinate resources across the government.

In so doing, the government has also sought to deepen and increase the areas of cooperation with the private sector. Initially focused on the strategic areas of energy security, port and inland logistics, and crime and corruption, cooperation has been expanded to include issues of skills and employment.

Which brings us to the expanded roll-out of government jobs and skills projects. First, I need to flag that this orientation and vision has a very long pedigree. Indeed, it is captured in the National Development Plan 2030 adopted in 2011. The earlier example of the Expanded Public Works Programme has been in existence for over two decades and is utilised by local governments of all political persuasions.

So the present roll-out of UIF Labour Activation Programmes (LAP) which started on April 6 in Gauteng – in tandem with the provincial Nasi Ispani project – is part of this long tradition, expanded now to pool resources across departments and provinces and in partnership with the private sector.

 The labour department has long been involved in skills training of the unemployed.

One of the things we did after the 2019 elections was to re-orientate training towards in-demand and scarce skills with the guarantee of a job at the end of the programme, replacing the previous training for training’s sake mentality.

Another critical part  was to undertake a structural architecture review of the funds – the UIF and Compensation Fund – carried out by an independent analyst, and with the express purpose of greatly strengthening client service and ensuring necessary financial controls, systems, governance, accountability, risk and compliance mechanisms are in place.

 The UIF is best known for paying out unemployment and maternity benefits, drawing on the contributions of employers and employees, but, in fact the UIF Act gives it a much larger mandate to mitigate unemployment, and includes funding job preservation in the form of the temporary employer/employee relief scheme (Ters);  training of the unemployed for employment; and job creation.

It was in furtherance of this mandate that the UIF established the LAP, where these kind of programmes have been running since before 2019, and will continue after the 2024 election.

The decision of the government to "massify skills development and job creation" in response to persistent high levels of unemployment and sluggish growth utilises the LAP platform – expanded to pool resources across departments and entities, and to partner with the private sector.

The current expanded LAP "Training for Employment and Entrepreneurship" programme sets ambitious targets – two million opportunities over three years, consisting of jobs preserved and created; demand-led skills training and entrepreneurial opportunities.

Currently, 333 projects have been recommended for implementation across every province, with planned some 704,000 beneficiaries.

Some 55,000 opportunities were announced for Gauteng on April 6 with the launch of the Nasi Ispani project, supported and jointly funded by the LAP across 24 sectors –  agriculture, services, IT, construction, engineering, wholesale and retail, safety and security, hospitality, social services, textile, transport, furniture manufacturing; education, energy, food and beverage, health and wellness, aviation, insurance, jewellery, hygiene, arts and culture, and financial sector.

Labour activation programmes are not a silver bullet to end the challenge of unemployment, but they are a viable force-multiplier that can be used together with other initiatives and interventions as part of a response to mitigate unemployment. 

An initial amount of R15bn  has been budgeted for the expanded LAP roll-out, eventually rising to R23.8bn  funding permitting. Opportunities will run between 12 and 36 months. The money invested in the plan will be recouped by the UIF through contributions and revenue generated from investments.

The official national launch of the expanded LAP programme takes place in KZN on  April 16, with a progressive roll-out of projects province by province, district by district, culminating in the Northern Cape on  May 9 to coincide with the Presidential Imbizo in Kimberly.

Details of other launches and the impact to be derived from these projects will be communicated on an ongoing basis.

  • Nxesi is minister of employment and labour 

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