Conversations: NYDA CEO Khathu Ramukumba on tackling SA’s youth unemployment crisis

As the CEO of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), Khathu Ramukumba plays a vital role in the development of youth in South Africa. He shares with us his hopes for the South African youth and tells us about his own journey from poverty to prosperity. Lulaway is a proud partner of the NYDA.


1. What is the role of the NYDA in the economic development of South Africa?

The National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) is a South African-based agency established primarily to tackle challenges that face the nation’s youth. The NYDA plays a leading role in ensuring that all major stakeholders, i.e government, the private sector and civil society, prioritise youth development and contribute towards identifying and implementing lasting solutions which address youth development challenges.

The NYDA designs and implements programmes aimed at improving the lives and opportunities available to youth. We provide direct services to youth in the form of information-provision, career guidance services, mentorship, skills development and training, entrepreneurial development and support, health awareness programmes and involvement in sport.

2. What role does Lulaway play in supporting the NYDA’s overall goals?

Lulaway has established trusted relationships with the private sector that we do not have. Lulaway creates a conduit for young people to find employment in these companies that we would not be able to do as successfully. Our partnership with Lulaway means that we are able link more employers to our job seekers and transform the future of these young people.

Lulaway has been involved in youth job creation for a long time and brings with them a host of knowledge around why young people struggle to find employment, as well as why they don’t stay their jobs. This knowledge helps us develop and adapt our strategy.

4. What are the main challenges facing the country in terms of our youth

Firstly, we e have large number of young people that are either uneducated, undereducated or irrelevantly educated.

Every year over half a million children are lost in the educational system. By this I mean that although 1.1million children register per year to begin school, only 500 000 will sit to write the grade 12 examination. By implication, we are losing 600 000 youth in the educational system, and I refer to these youth as uneducated or undereducated.

Additionally, we have many graduates who exit the tertiary education system with qualifications which are not required by the economy. These graduates are irrelevantly educated and their employment prospects suffer.

Secondly, we have a severe shortage of artisan skills. We constantly find ourselves having to import labour from overseas. An example of this is the soccer world cup and the power stations construction. Despite the staggering unemployment rates of local young people, we still need to look outside the country because our own young people lack the required skills.

The combination of the lack of education and shortage of required skills results in an unequal society with high levels of poverty as we currently find ourselves in.

4. It is clear that you are very passionate about education. Where did this come from?

I lost my father when I was very young. My mother raised all six children alone. She survived by doing lots of odds jobs and despite the fact that she was not educated herself, she appreciated the importance of education and made sure that no matter what we all went to school. It was amazing because even though she was not educated, she knew that we needed to be educated in order to turn our lives around. We grew up in abject poverty, and because of her, all six children are now professionals. She taught me about defying the odds; despite her poverty, she gave us a lifetime inheritance.

5. Youth unemployment is of key concern to all; what attitudes need to change in order to reduce youth unemployment?

On the job seeker side, young South Africans need to be realistic as to how to changes one’s economic position. You will find that they would reject a job because it gives them a low salary. However, their expectations are not in line with the economy and what the market offers.

You will often find that foreigners fill basic jobs such as waiters because they understand that starting in less than ideal positions is what one requires to go forward. Many youth are not willing to take the entry-level positions available because they don’t understand that first jobs are a starting step.

My first job was as an article clerk. As an article clerk you are on the bottom of the chain, and you realise that you pay your own salary after one weeks work. But you soldier on, and see the future. Youth need to develop long-term thinking and not just reject a job because it is not paying well enough.

On the employer side, we need to increase levels of patriotism from corporate South Africa. Research shows that there are trillions of rands of revenue, but many are choosing to keep this as reserves instead of expanding their operations and stimulating the economy and increasing employment.

The government needs to address the political instability. When the private sector sees a political stable environment, they will be willing to invest into the economy. The government needs to have strong governance especially concerning fiscal policy and then the private sector will have the confidence to contribute.

6. What gives you hope for South Africa?

We are a resilient nation. Our history shows that even in darkest hour we can find ourselves and move forward. In the struggle for freedom civil society found their voice. In recent years, again we are seeing ordinary South African reclaiming their destiny. It gives me hope because finally, we are not leaving change to the politicians.

A society with a strong civil voice is the ultimate defence in terms of correcting and redirecting and making the right decisions. Our priorities are skewed – South Africa is and will be a youthful nation, and we need to prioritize education and skills. We are finding our own voice again, and hopefully with the right political will, we will see the young people being owners of the economy.