Youth development key to growth: Zuma


20 March 2013

Investing in South Africa’s youth and paying particular attention to their skills development is key to the country’s future economic growth, says President Jacob Zuma.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Conference on Education and Training of Youth Workers at the University of South Africa (Unisa) in Pretoria on Tuesday, Zuma said the world would only prosper if there were dedicated efforts to invest in the youth.

This was especially important at a time when young people faced hardships including high unemployment, crime and health challenges such as HIV/Aids.

Zuma said the 5th summit of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping, taking place in Durban next week, will help promote youth development in South Africa and on the continent as a whole.

He said the BRICS partner countries appreciated the urgency of the youth employment and empowerment drive. “We are certain that BRICS will contribute immensely to satisfying the employment and development needs of our young population.”

Zuma noted that the 2008-09 financial crisis had resulted in rising joblessness and poverty and worsening income inequality internationally, especially among the youth.

He quoted research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the African Development Bank showing that more than 40 percent of those who are economically active and under the age of 30 are unemployed.

While this was worrying, Zuma said he believed there was hope for the situation, noting that the OECD report shows that countries with younger populations have better growth prospects than those with aging populations.

“This makes us very optimistic regarding our growth prospects, since South Africa’s Census 2011 report, released last year, revealed that our country is essentially a nation of young people.

“Just over a third of the population is under the age of 15. This makes us a nation with a future, and we must utilise all available resources to build that future.”

Zuma said South Africa’s focus on improving the quality of education was well-placed, as this would ensure sustainable development.

The three-day conference brings together participants from across the Commonwealth member states for three days to deliberate on 40 years of progress in education and training towards professionalising youth work.

Zuma said he hoped the conference would go a long way towards raising awareness around youth work, so that its practitioners could be recognised accordingly.

Unisa Principal and Vice-Chancellor Mandla Makhanya said the stakeholders involved in the conference sought to contribute to the professionalization of the youth development practice through partnerships.

Speaker after speaker highlighted the need to support the process of youth work professionalization. Some noted with concern that youth development programmes in South African universities had been phased out.

Highlighting the need for the international recognition of youth work as a profession, Professor Howard Sercombe of the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland said recognition of youth work was growing in different sections of the working world.

He said if the world was to change the lives of young people, the social context within which this could happen had to change.

Sercombe had words of encouragement for young people, saying they should take charge of their own futures, and not expect the government to do everything for them. “You cannot become anything, but you can become something,” he said.