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Can SA sustain its working population?

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South Africa is experiencing a profound demographic shift with the country’s working population increasing substantially and predicted to continue on this growth path for the next five decades.
This is according to the World Bank economic update, which reports that South Africa is in its demographic window of opportunity and will remain like that for at least the next 50 years.
The report highlights that since 1994, South Africa’s labour force aged between 15 and 64, has increased by 11-million, and in the next five decades, the growth will have expanded by another nine million.
Kay Vittee, CEO of Quest Staffing Solutions, says that with the majority of the population (68.3%) at their working prime by 2045, South Africa’s working age population presents a great opportunity for the economy. Although the same poses a great challenge as the country is faced with the responsibility of ensuring that these people are able to find jobs and that the country gets the necessary economic boost that will sustain it in the long run.
Vittee highlights that South Africa has been battling with unemployment issues for many years, she notes that this has worsened since the last global economic crisis as well as the current power crisis which has impacted greatly on the services sector.
“As a result of the turbulent economy which has put businesses in distress, private sector enterprises’ turnover has fallen by 5,2% to an estimated R1.95-trillion in the first quarter — the largest decrease since 2010 as reported by Statistics South Africa in June this year. This has also resulted in the loss of over 44 000 jobs in the first quarter of this financial year,” she says.
The World Bank report highlights that in the midst of the demographic shift, half of South Africa’s unemployed population is below the age of 25 – this includes youth from the age of 15. This population makes up almost 50% of the national rate, the future drivers of the South African economy.
Vittee says that the main problem here is the country’s weak education system which leaves school leavers ill equipped for the modern workplace.
“It is imperative that the government implements an education system that will enable school-leavers and graduates to face modern workplace challenges, these efforts would also need to include opportunities for youth to learn while they progress in the workplace,” she says.
To sustain the future of this country, Vittee also recommends that the government introduce policies that will focus on developing services, small and medium firms, and household enterprises, including in the informal economy.
“This will allow the youth to cope in the midst of poverty and serve as the engines for job creation while also sustaining the economy,” she says.
Vittee advises that the private sector should also play a role by increasing their provision for internships, learnerships and apprenticeships.
“South Africa is in its demographic window of opportunity, but will only remain there for about 50 years, the priority right now – more than ever – should be to create more jobs and empower youth to create their own opportunities,” Vittee says