Combatting youth unemployment in South Africa

12 Jun 2018

In the Johannesburg region unemployment rates have increased to over 50%. Unemployment may have long term detrimental effects on health and societal inclusion, especially among young people. To better understand how to combat unemployment, The Experience of Unemployment research project was set up. Within the context of this research program TNO was asked to help with the development and implementation of a short-term career enhancing program.

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Combatting unemployment

Unemployment rates among young people have reached unprecedented highs in South Africa. Downsizing due to global economic developments is a major cause. Because unemployment has long term detrimental effects on health and other important individual and societal aspects there is need for effective interventions to combat unemployment and its detrimental effects. Therefore, North West University in cooperation with the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium started the Experience of Unemployment research program.

The JOBS program

In the mid-eighties a comparable situation as in South Africa was at hand in the Detroit area in Michigan US with large downsizings in the automotive industry and high unemployment rates. To combat this the Michigan Prevention Research Center developed an effective intervention called the JOBS program, a short-term group intervention aimed at both job search motivation an job search skills. When a similar situation occurred in Finland due to economic collapse of the Russian economy in de mid-nineties a Finnish version of the JOBS program, the Työhön program was developed and implemented with similar results as in Michigan US.

TNO and unemployment

Based on these experiences TNO developed several programs for different groups with a distance to the labour market, such as back to school for early school drop outs, career development for low educated youth, job search for long term unemployed and societal inclusion of chronic work disabled. Again similar results for these programs were found as with the JOBS and Työhön program. These programs enhance the chance of finding paid employment with a factor of almost three. Participants, compared to control groups, find jobs faster and more often, are more satisfied with their jobs and receive higher salaries on average and report better health. Although these programs are relatively short-term, effects were found sustainable up to at least two years.
Recent meta-analytic research (Liu et al, 2014) revealed that the two sided focus on enhancing motivation aspects such as self-efficacy, goal planning and enhancing skills customized to the specific groups, such as job search skills for job seekers or career planning skills for students and employees, is fundamental to these effects. In particular two elements were found to predict successful (re-)entering the labour market: techniques that enhance self-efficacy and anticipating perceived obstacles and inoculation against possible setbacks thereby enhancing problem solving skills.

Qhubekela Phambili: Moving Forward

Due to the experience in developing these programs, TNO was asked to help with the development of a South African version of the JOBS program. TNO is one of the few organisations that provide train the trainer programs on these types of interventions.
The program in South Africa is called Qhubekela Phambili which is a Zulu phrase for 'moving forward'.  Qhubekela Phambili aims at unemployed youth and focuses on enhancing work motivation and job search and entrepreneurial skills. The program is currently implemented in two communities south west of Johannesburg. The outcome of this implementation is monitored in a controlled outcome study which is part of the PhD project of Rachele Paver at North Wes University (NWU), one of the PhD projects within The Experience of Unemployment program by KU Leuven and NWU. TNO remains involved in the further development and implementation of this program.

This TNO project supports the following Sustainable Development Goals


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