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Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Job hitch

Miseducation and unemployment are two of South Africa’s most pressing problems. Both result from government domination and control of processes that should be guided by supply and demand. Young people are unfortunate victims in both instances.
Despite “a decline in the overall matric pass rate in the number of candidates passing maths and science on the higher grade, and fewer endorsements,” Duncan Hindle, the Director-General of the Department of Education, declared in an article in the Sunday Times (31/12/06) that “there is also good news in the results.” The apparent good news was that the matriculation examinations had become more demanding. However, he also “acknowledged that the contribution of our schools to economic growth is below standard.”
In an article in The Sunday Independent (31/12/06), Professor Jonathan Jansen, dean of education at the University of Pretoria, blamed the existence of “two, unequal school systems” for the failures and suggested that the solution was to “do something radical, and to do it quickly.” According to him it was the quality of the schools that must be raised, not the standard of the matriculation examination. Every school should be provided with “the minimum of resources to function well enough to deliver quality education,” all teachers must be competent to teach their subjects, and failing principals must be redeployed. “With every generation of matriculation pupils who have their hopes dashed, we add to the swelling number of disillusioned young people roaming the streets,” he said.
Some young people who fail the matriculation examination are so devastated by the experience that they commit suicide. What is most tragic about these occurrences is that unfortunate students are led to believe that the matriculation certificate guarantees their futures, and especially jobs.
As Professor Jansen made clear, “The 21st century workplace, even in a developing country like South Africa, requires much, much more than a senior certificate.” That is one reason why many young people in possession of matriculation certificates and even certificates for success in further studies of various kinds are unemployed. The other and more potent factor keeping them unemployed is that the labour laws contain powerful disincentives that make employers, especially small firms, reluctant to employ them. The ‘disillusioned young people roaming the streets’ are prevented by entry barriers, of which they are totally unaware, from stepping onto the first rung of the employment ladder, learning skills on the job, becoming independent; and becoming confident workers taking pride in their achievements.
Something radical has to be done, and it needs to be done quickly. There is scarcely a highly developed country, including countries such as the US and UK, that is not agonising over the failures of government controlled and government provided schooling. More money is spent, efforts are made to improve quality, teaching methods are changed, curricula are altered, but the results remain dismal and students become increasingly unhappy and frustrated.
What is not provided is real choice, in both subject matter and schooling provision. Students and their parents should have the right to choose their own education service providers and the nature of what the student is to learn. What the 21st Century workplace and place of learning need is a process of education that is the consequence of the demands of the consumers or users of the services. In other words, employers need an education system that responds to the changing demands of economic development and their skills and knowledge requirements, while students and their parents need innovative and adaptable service providers that can provide the student with the required skills and knowledge. Government controlled and provided schooling cannot meet those demands. Competitive private providers of skills and knowledge training, free of inhibiting regulatory shackles, are the only viable option.
While choice of provider and content of education offer a solution to the education crisis, choice of employment and circumstances of employment offer a solution to the unemployment crisis. The booklet Jobs for the Jobless: Special Exemption Certificates for the Unemployed proposes that anyone who is unemployed for six months or more should be entitled, as of right, to a certificate exempting the job seeker from the labour laws for a period of two years. This would entitle the job seeker to decide for her or himself what wages and conditions of employment she or he finds acceptable.
The six-month waiting period for an exemption certificate was included in the proposal to cover the possibility of employers firing workers and taking them back once they had ‘exempt’ status. However, given the difficulty experienced by school leavers in obtaining jobs, the waiting period could be waived. Given the choice, many young people may have the confidence to make their own arrangements with prospective employers, without the protection afforded by the labour laws. If that is their wish, it should be their right. By Eustace Davie, a director of the Free Market Foundation.
He is also author of Unchain the Child: Abolish Compulsory Schooling Laws and Jobs for the Jobless: Special Exemption Certificates for the Unemployed published by the Free Market Foundation.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:20.4 1st May, 2007
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