Nearly five million young South Africans—half of the nation’s youth population—are neither employed nor in school. Due to the legacy of apartheid, black youth and young women particularly experience the highest rates of unemployment in the country. Understandably, the South African government has positioned economic growth and job creation at the center of its 2020 public policy goal: to create five million new jobs by enabling productive sectors of the economy—including manufacturing—to drive economic growth.

Linked to this goal is the need to equip young people with the skills to access and succeed in high-demand occupations in manufacturing and related industries. Significant investments are being made in the public Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) college system, which functions as an alternative pathway to secondary schooling for nearly a million students. Despite employers facing acute shortages for entry-level positions in skilled occupations, employment rates for TVET college graduates remain low.

In response, Irish Aid commissioned IYF to undertake a study: Producing Opportunity: A Youth Labor Market Assessment in South Africa’s Manufacturing Industry. The study sought to identify the most prevalent occupations within the manufacturing sector that are accessible to youth—including TVET college students and graduates—and to recommend training approaches that enhance young women and men’s preparedness for, and access to, these job opportunities. The report focused specifically on artisan occupations (e.g., millwrights, boilermakers, and diesel mechanics) and machine operator roles (e.g., packing and processing machine operators and professional drivers).

As noted by Bob Patterson, Head of Development at the Embassy of Ireland in South Africa, “One of Irish Aid’s goals is to promote sustainable development and inclusive economic growth in South Africa. This assessment is a critical component to the bigger plan of ensuring improved participation of the country’s youth in economic activity.”

IYF structured the study on its well-tested youth labor market assessment model, which includes youth perspectives, employer recruitment needs and priorities, and sound data collection and analysis. In the Irish Aid study, researchers interviewed government institutions, industry associations, labor unions, training providers, employers, and youth trainees and employees in the manufacturing sector. The study offers further context by drawing on a wealth of other South African labor market data. In contrast to several recent studies on manufacturing skills in demand in the country, this assessment uniquely explored the industry barriers and opportunities for youth and young women, the latter of whom are significantly underrepresented in the sector.

Among its findings, the study recommends the integration of life skills into all technical and vocational education and training programs; the provision of more targeted and robust career guidance for youth seeking to enter the sector; and the enhancement of partnerships between industry and public TVET colleges. The study also emphasized the need to increase women’s participation in training and employment in the manufacturing sector by providing more gender-equitable career guidance services, working with employers to promote more inclusive workplace culture, and integrating gender targets into the government’s skills development funding mechanisms.

As a next step, IYF and Irish Aid have developed a partnership with the South African Department of Higher Education and Training to integrate Passport to Success®—IYF’s flagship life skills curriculum—into an innovative engineering course that combines trade theory with math, science, communications, and ICT training at TVET colleges. In addition, IYF will provide support to more effectively engage employers, promote gender parity in job placement efforts, and increase post-graduation employment rates in the process.