Degreed Africans trail in job market

October 29, 2004

South Africa is facing a growing graduate unemployment problem, according to a University of Cape Town study that shows joblessness among people with tertiary education soared from 6 per cent to 15 per cent in seven years after the end of apartheid.

The research by Haroon Bhorat, director of the Development Policy Research Unit in UCT's School of Economics, shows that race remains a strong factor in employment, with black people - graduates among them - by far the least likely to find jobs.

Dr Bhorat was one of several scholars commissioned by President Thabo Mbeki to probe key economic issues ahead of the tenth anniversary of South Africa's democracy.

Drawing on surveys conducted by Statistics South Africa between 1994 and 2002, his study shows - contrary to popular national belief - that there has been an increase in employment to accompany economic growth. In fact, the number of jobs grew by 1.6 million during this period.

But in the same period, would-be entrants to the labour market grew by 5 million - a 37 per cent increase against a 17 per cent rise in jobs - driving unemployment up to 40 per cent.

Joblessness among people with tertiary education is lower than any other group. But Dr Bhorat found the largest percentage growth in those without jobs to be among people with full schooling or tertiary qualifications.

Unemployment levels grew by 56 per cent for school-leavers and by 139 per cent among those with a tertiary qualification.

While unemployment among school-leavers could be explained by the economy's low potential to recruit, "high unemployment levels among degreed individuals is a surprise, and puzzling", especially given the increasing skills bias in employment shifts.

"There can be no doubt that we are witnessing the beginning of a graduate unemployment problem in South Africa," Dr Bhorat says.

Unemployment is highest among Africans with tertiary education, and grew from 10 per cent in 1995 to 26 per cent in 2002. Smaller increases in the number of jobless were found among other race groups, with 5 per cent of white graduates unemployed in 2002.

The trend in unemployment among those with tertiary education is thus largely explained by "growing joblessness among the African degreed population", Dr Bhorat says. He speculates that this could be because of continued discrimination, and because African students are concentrated in fields of high graduate unemployment.

Unemployment is also highest among Africans with undergraduate or postgraduate degrees - 16 per cent of 46,000 graduates were jobless in 2002, an increase of 420 per cent since 1995. Three per cent of 13,500 whites with degrees were jobless in 2002, an increase of 10 per cent on 1995.

Tentative evidence "suggests that institutions of higher education are... not matching their curriculum design effectively enough with the labour demand needs of employers", Dr Bhorat concludes.

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