The announcement this week by the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) that youth unemployment has increased by 4.2 percent between 2012 and 2013 should not be taken lightly.
While there is general recognition that efforts have been made over the years to help arrest the situation, the fact that almost half of young people in this country are unemployed is a worrying phenomenon.
Part of the problem is the belief that government bears the sole responsibility to create jobs in the country. Critical interventions such as small business support, youth training and the provision of study bursaries for education and training, are a responsibility that corporate Namibia too must tightly embrace.
Perhaps what government needs to do is to fine-tune, or even review, unemployment policy interventions in terms of design, targeting and the ability to adequately address the needs of young labour market entrants as well as employers.
To its credit, government has pumped billions of dollars into the tertiary education training of young people, but the fact that many do not make it to beyond Grade 12 is in itself a great contributor to unemployment.
Unemployment is generally a sad state of affairs in any country. But when it is the youth who mainly find themselves at the receiving end of this catastrophe, the implications could become far-reaching.
It stunts general growth among the youth, both economically, mentally and even intellectually. It means more ill health later in life, increased inequality between rich and poor – or even an economically-defined generational gap between the young and the old.
This misery is a time-bomb whose explosion can happen anytime. Several challenges persist, such as lack of education and a job market dominated by agile corporate operations whereby employers try to keep structures lean.
While our education system is partly to blame for why many young people have failed to pass the Grade 12 hurdle, it also true that some young people have squandered their own life opportunities.
But while that is indeed the case, it would be insensitive of us to kick a man while he’s down. The main source of the current problems is structures and policy interventions which are not responsive enough to unemployment.
Generally, there are not many unemployed people who possess recognised qualifications. Those with qualifications and are still unemployed are mainly part of the group who, despite being educated on paper, possess no skills needed in the labour market.
In this case, it is important that institutions re-evaluate and review their curricula so that they are suitable and responsive to market needs.
The NSA proposed – and we agree – that government must, as part of wider interventions, scrap the non-readmission policy which denies failed learners an opportunity to repeat grades 10 and 12.
On an annual basis, volumes of young people are pumped onto the streets as a result of failing grades 10 or 12, which is sometimes a result of a lack of basic tools at schools such as textbooks, or being taught under trees. In other words, failure is not always solely a learner’s fault – especially in the Namibian context.
It is unacceptable that while youth unemployment is decreasing elsewhere in the world, ours is skyrocketing, and at rates of worrying proportions. The private sector and everyone else must meet government halfway in the quest to halt the situation.