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26 July 2023

UNDP South Africa’s National Human Development Report Highlights Key Challenges and New Strategies for Youth Employment in the 21st Century

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, 25 July 2023 – Youth employment is a key accelerator of economic growth and essential for fostering human development, making it the cornerstone for achieving South Africa’s development. Nonetheless, a significant portion of the country’s young population is unemployed, exacerbated by the lack of opportunities for skill enhancement tailored to the demands of the 21st century and the future. Consequently, young people suffer economic losses, which in turn deprive South Africa of their creativity and innovative capabilities.

In the latest South Africa National Human Development (SANHDR) 2022: Harnessing the Employability of South Africa’s Youth, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) looks at youth unemployment in South Africa through a human development lens. The report, developed by UNDP and the Human Sciences Research Council (SHRC), highlights that youth unemployment in South Africa is not merely a problem but a defining development challenge that limits the earning potential of youth, stymies economic growth, threatens social cohesion, and puts pressure on public resources. Accordingly, in addressing youth unemployment, the country will simultaneously be addressing poverty and income inequality. Addressing and tackling youth joblessness is not only sound economics but also a development imperative.

“The government commends the UNDP and its partners for undertaking the research and producing this timely report,” said H. E. Mr Shipokosa Paulus Mashatile, Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa. “Hopefully, the report will shine the light on blind spots on the work we are doing to develop the youth of our country.”

Officiated by the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa at the launch event, the report presents a concerning outlook on the escalating youth unemployment in South Africa, which stood at 61.0% for youth aged 14-24 years and 39.9% for youth aged 25-34 years, as per the data from the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) for Q4: 2022. Simultaneously, the report highlights the overall national unemployment rate, which stands at 32.7%. However, it acknowledges that this figure masks significant disparities among provinces, with rates ranging from 22.5% in the Western Cape province to as high as 42.4% in the Eastern Cape.

Among the report’s findings are:  

  • Although South Africa has a long legacy of colonization and apartheid, and now faces the triple development challenges of slow growth, deep poverty and inequalities, and high levels of joblessness, the country has the vision, commitment and capability to overcome its youth unemployment challenge.
  • In order to tackle its high and complex youth unemployment challenge, and to take advantage of the opportunities of the future of work, South Africa has to extensively invest in the 21st-century skills of its younger generation.
  • The new world of work, propelled by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, presents new job opportunities but also poses risks. South Africa must be ready to seize the opportunities of the new world of work while minimizing its associated risks.
  • All around the world, different countries and regions have been trying to address the challenge of high unemployment through various interventions. South Africa can learn from youth employability experiences in other regions of the world.
  • Policy options for overcoming youth joblessness in South Africa are available. Drawing on them and learning from the experiences of other countries, the country should pursue an action agenda for expanding youth employment.

“Prolonged joblessness can lead to a lost generation through the erosion of skills and human capital. In this regard, weaning youth from dependence on social grants to productive employment and entrepreneurship is critical to addressing this crisis,” said Dr Ayodele Odusolaa, UNDP Resident Representative, South Africa. “Given that knowledge, skills and expertise are the currencies of the 21st century, continuous investment in these elements is critical to meaningful results.”

The SANHDR proposes a comprehensive strategy consisting of five key elements to tackle youth unemployment in the country. These elements include: 1) Developing strategic approaches for youth to transition into sustainable livelihoods, 2) Generating and taking advantage of job opportunities and the demographic dividend, 3) Harnessing the potential in the evolving job market, 4) Reviving the National Youth Service Schemes, and 5) Forming partnerships among various stakeholders to address the issue. This strategy can be operationalized by ensuring that, among other important efforts, South Africa’s youth can take advantage of new service work, undertake creative careers and care work, pursue social enterprises, and access philanthropic funding, all towards positioning the country to take full beneficial advantage of the 4th industrial revolution.

“Ultimately, and as it is throughout the history of UNDP’s Human Development Reports, the overarching intention of this report is to trigger some robust national discussions around youth unemployment and, in the spirit of collaboration with the government and other stakeholders, fund sustainable solutions to this scourge,” said Dr Odusola. “Without some decisive policy decisions and strategic actions, the report clearly warns that continued youth unemployment threatens the social and political stability of South Africa.”

HSRC CEO, Prof Sarah Mosoetsa, indicated that for the HSRC, the production was an ambitious project, particularly in seeking to provide the human development composite measures at the level of detailed subnational geography – municipalities.

 “Overall, the SANHDR 2022 serves as an important yardstick not only of the availability of national data to feed into internationally comparable assessments of development, but also highlights areas for further collaboration towards developing contextually relevant indicators reflective of national development concerns,” added Prof Mosoetsa.

About the UNDP Human Development Report

The UNDP mission statement states that UNDP helps countries to determine their future and supports countries to pursue human development — improving people’s lives. Pursuing human development is to enable every individual to live a long, healthy, fully functioning life; equipped in terms of knowledge and agency to make choices from a range of accessible alternatives to enhance his or her well-being at every stage of existence. By emphasizing the well-being of all individuals – rather than statistical aggregates – people are placed at the centre of development in the human development paradigm.

To raise awareness on human development approaches around the world, UNDP has been producing annual Global Human Development Reports (GHDRs) since 1990. These reports focus on international debate on key development issues, providing new measurement tools, innovative analysis, and policy proposals. In addition to the annual GHDRs, UNDP has supported countries to analyse and address country-specific development challenges through National Human Development Reports (NHDRs).  To date, more than 650 such publications have been prepared. 

To learn more about the South Africa National Human Development Report contact Ntokozo Mahlangu at, +27 605.336.760, or visit WEB ADDRESS

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crises, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for all people. On the ground in 177 countries and territories, we offer a global perspective and local insights to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

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