The cash earmarked for youth subsidies should be spent on teaching the youth skills needed to build the economy, says Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya.

I have a nephew – let’s call him Fezile – who has crossed my mind in the past few days amid the debate around the youth wage subsidy, the meaning of the matric certificate and more recently, the ever shrinking space for young people who want to pursue higher education.

Cosatu is fervently opposed to the youth wage subsidy signed into law at the beginning of the year. It has argued that the law would make employers replace older workers with cheaper spring-chickens.

Fezile passed – if that is the right word for someone who got enough marks to be pushed out of the school system but not enough to go anywhere else with them – matric a few years ago.

Since then, he has had a few temporary jobs here and there. Some jobs he quit because the wage did not make the trip to work economically viable or was fired for treating the workplace as his favourite uncle’s lounge.

Fezile does not have much of a CV to show around. Still, he looks down on Further Education and Training colleges as beneath him. He believes that he deserves “ispani esi-grand” (a good job) which he describes as one where he’d wear a shirt and tie and work Mondays to Fridays between 9am and 5pm.

That he is already handy with broken kettles and irons is an irrelevant fact and his matric results are just unfortunate.

Which brings me to the youth wage subsidy debate. Even if he found a job, thanks to the tax rebate his employer would get for hiring someone of that age, what kind of job would it be? How sustainable would it be?

Knowing what I know about him and his lack of skills, it would probably be not much.

What’s more, I doubt if that job would give him the skills to operate in a modern economy in the event that his employer goes under or the young man finds the inspiration to go on his own.

Realistically, our Fezile is most likely to find work such as being a shop assistant, petrol attendant or security guard.

Based on what I know about Fezile, I cannot understand why the state thinks that subsidising employers to pay the salaries of young people will be better in the long term.

It seems to me that it is a law that will definitely benefit employers and the unemployed youth in the short term, but from what I have been able to glean from what the various government officials have said, it will keep the status quo and repeat the cycle with the next generation of Fezile’s offspring.

From where I am sitting, it would be better to spend the money – which the likes of Fezile’s employers would get from the state – on useful skills that my nephew and others like him would need to contribute positively to the economy and give them dignity.

In fact, giving young men like him a meaningful way of making a living and finding their dignity might just have an impact on the levels of crime in our country.

It is not always politically correct to say it, but most crimes in our country are perpetrated by individuals who fit my nephew’s demographics and psychographics.

Assuming that President Jacob Zuma meant it when he said his ANC will rule forever, it does not make sense for the party to invest in such short-term solutions like the youth wage subsidy instead of a more long-term plan.

Surely the ANC does not want to subsidise employers until Jesus returns?

Do not get me wrong. There is some merit in subsidising the wages of the youth who otherwise would not find work anywhere else.

The problem with this is when such interventions ignore the reality that one of the main reasons for youth unemployment is that the jobless simply do not have the necessary skills for the modern workplace.

It would be better if employers received rebates – not just for employing young people, but more importantly, for training and equipping them with the skills that would make them go on their own after a set time.

To permanently subsidise a petrol attendant’s wage is to lock that person’s descendants into the same life as their father or mother because he or she would not have had any meaningful skill at the end of his working life.

Evidence before me suggests that the government must invest in the futures of young people even if it is at the risk of their present. It is the only way the government can cut its losses because if it does not, it might just have to keep subsidising the offspring of more generations of men and women whose employment it also subsidised.

Equally important, is for Fezile and others in his situation to know that they are the masters of their own futures.

The state can only do so much. They are on their own.

* Fikile Moya is executive editor of the Pretoria News

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