16th June 1976 – one of the most iconic days in South Africa’s history. Youth Day this year will mark 45 years since the Soweto Uprising, when thousands of school children mobilised to protest the Apartheid government’s racist laws which affected their education. While hundreds of students paid with their lives, the sacrifices and bloodshed of that day signaled a turning point for the country, leading to global sanctions against South Africa and ushering in the beginning of true democracy. The events of this day and its profound repercussions serve as a testament to the power and influence wielded by young people in society.
The youth also form a crucial component of the economy, representing our future workers, consumers and taxpayers. According to the United Nations, almost 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, making Africa the world’s youngest continent. In South Africa, the youth (aged 18–34) constitute almost a third of the population with around 18 million people in this age group. This rapidly growing population presents enormous potential, with opportunities for the creativity and innovation of young people to play a vital role in economic growth and transformation.
On the other hand, South Africa’s staggering youth unemployment rate (currently at 74.7%, based on the expanded definition) and severe skills shortages pose significant challenges which cannot be ignored. Overcoming these barriers, in order to harness the immense potential of the youth, will require practical and tangible solutions.
Skills development provides one of the most valuable and effective means of facilitating job creation and reducing unemployment. Learnerships, in particular, encourage ongoing education and training in order to create better opportunities, bridge the skills gap and ultimately grow the economy.
For almost two decades, Progression has been partnering with some of South Africa’s biggest corporate companies to facilitate and manage learnerships, mostly for people with disabilities. This Youth Month, we celebrate some of the remarkable individuals who successfully navigated the learnership journey to reap the rewards of permanent employment and financial independence.
The uplifting stories of these individuals should provide hope to countless young people and inspire confidence in the learnership system, which provides practical solutions to our desperate challenges of unemployment and lack of skills. The opportunities are there for those who are able to recognise them and willing to put in the effort to make the most of the possibilities.