Policy think tank Centre for Development and Enterprise head Ann Bernstein has advised the South African government to get millions of young people into employment in a more labour-intensive economy that exhibits faster growth.
Bernstein was speaking on Wednesday during a webinar on South Africa’s economic recovery strategy, organised by the University of Johannesburg, where she said fewer young people were employed today compared with 2010.
She said it was a “disgrace” and “unforgivable” that South Africa was at the bottom or near the bottom of almost every international comparative table assessing education systems.
Bernstein said there was a need to revisit higher education, especially vocational education, with regard to how the country skilled those who had dropped out of school and those who could not go to university.
“We need a new approach to the job crisis and policy reform is absolutely essential. We need to change things on how we run our economy, the rules of the economy so that we can increase the rate of growth and we to make this economy much more labour intensive. We have to stop avoiding the essential reforms,” said Bernstein.
She said in a country such as South Africa, a lower wage for young, inexperienced people was a better prospect than no job at all.
Furthermore, Bernstein said difficult political decisions needed to be taken and said the country had to become much more serious about the ever-growing jobs crisis.
“Government has to change the terms of a debate on growth, inclusion and on building a labour-intensive economy. We have to adopt a new approach to the jobs crisis, prioritise the reforms necessary for much faster growth, and reform the labour market in the context of the reality of scale and the additional disruptions of the coronavirus (Covid-19) period we are in,” she said.
The frustration, she pointed out, was that South Africa has the potential but “we always disappoint”.
She said the country was in “deep trouble” and warned that tweaking old policies will not be effective.
Bernstein added that it was time to look at the State and the role of markets and the private sector.
“South Africa’s State is weak and corrupt and ineffective. It doesn’t matter what you want, that is the reality. South Africa has a strong private sector that could be more impressive if it were not restrained and held back by policy-makers unjustifiably extolling the alleged merits of a commandest developmental State,” she explained.