Siyakha Youth Assets Testing and Evaluating the Impacts of Youth Employability Interventions
Youth unemployment is a pressing economic, political and social concern in present day South Africa. A wide range of factors are pertinent to understanding youth unemployment in South Africa and the region. Unemployment rates are closely related to one’s level of education and the low skills profile of the majority of young South Africans. Many youth drop out of the education system before completing high school and few hold further or higher education qualifications that could increase their likelihood of finding a job or moving into self-employment. The high cost of investing in further training and education also acts as a barrier to their progression and few young people are saving as an educational investment for the future. Youth employability is high on the national development agenda with 3.8 million young people between the ages of 18-25 years currently not in education, employment or training. A number of public, private and civil society actors are engaged in implementing programs aimed at promoting youth employability.
Siyakha is a cluster-randomized, longitudinal research project. Siyakha’s primary research objective is to examine the causal impacts of youth employment and financial inclusion programs on financial capabilities, employability, and longer-term employment effects for South African youth. The clusters (or training sites) were assigned to treatment or control with 22 to the control and 22 to the treatment. At the control sites the implementing partners offered treatment-as-usual, but at the treatment sites a financial capability program was included with the treatment-as-usual programs. Youth in the treatment sites received financial literacy training and access to a youth-friendly financial product.
Siyakha Youth Assets is a longitudinal and comparative study that aims to contribute to evidence-based employment interventions that may prevent long term chronic unemployment. The study partners with eight nationally recognized youth employability programs. Each program varies in size and scope, however, all selected programs offer life skills that enable young people to function effectively in the workplace, technical and/or vocational skills, and opportunities to increase work experience. The programs represent a wide spectrum of the kinds of interventions that are being delivered to enhance youth employability. They range from one week to one year in length, include a combination of classroom and workplace-based training, and have varying exit opportunities for participants. This means that program features (e.g. length of program, ratio of classroom to workplace based training, exit opportunities) can be isolated to assess which features seem to deliver better impact (e.g. are shorter or longer-term programs more successful?). In addition to the standard programming of each organization, half of the 44 sites were selected to receive an additional financial capability intervention. The young people in the intervention group are taught the importance of savings and offered a chance to open a savings account. The outcomes of those who received this financial training with those who did not will be compared.
Participants were predominantly African, women, largely unemployed and from poor backgrounds. The average age was 23 years. Three-quarters of the sample were between 18 and 25 years of age. This is the demographic group most affected by unemployment. The participants typically came from very poor households. Participants had low income (a monthly income of R527 per person or $37USD), few assets and, in 20% of the cases, nobody in the household was employed. Seventy-one percent of respondents experienced moderate to high levels of food insecurity. They also reported positive financial attitudes and behaviors, including progressive views on savings. For instance, 89% reported budgeting and 60% reported doing something, such as saving, to plan for future expenses. Almost two fifths of the participants were already responsible for the financial or daily care of a child. One fifth said they were expected to contribute to the financial needs of adults. Young women in particular faced expectations around caring for children. Over half the respondents had some previous work experience, with a typical job lasting under a year. Almost 80% of the sample were unemployed at the time of the baseline study and 73% experienced spells of chronic unemployment since leaving school. Only 17% had ever been self-employed.
Respondents indicated a mean (average) cost of work-seeking of R938 ($66 USD) and a median of R550 ($39 USD) per month. This represents an amount equal to, or more than, the average monthly per person household income of R527 ($37 USD). Work-seeking costs include transport costs, administrative costs, printing and copying, internet fees, postage, and application fees. In addition, 82% indicated having no, or very few acquaintances, and 84% indicated having no, or very few friends they could turn to for advice and support on work-seeking. Limited social capital for young people acts as a barrier to work-seeking.
Conclusion and Next Steps
Youth unemployment remains a structural problem that requires systemic labor market and education interventions. But there are also inequalities that shape access to the labor market and these also require attention. Initial evidence coming from follow-up data analysis from post-test results points to how young people continue to be “locked out” of the labor market. These preliminary findings show that after participating in a youth employability program, participants are reporting sustained or more positive outcomes on factors that could ultimately help them break through the barriers they face. Additional research and analysis will determine further understanding of the pathways towards long term employment among South African youth.