“So, what are you up to these days?” This is a burning question I have received from a variety of people these past couple of months. For a while, this question was an anxiety trigger for me…
I’m an educated young person who wants to do something meaningful with her life, but for the past five months or so, I’ve been searching for a job. Yes, two Masters degrees later, the employment search has been my daily mission!
I have leveraged my networks (to minimize information asymmetries*), watched relevant YouTube videos, downloaded documents for interview preparation; signed up to platforms like the Harvard Business Review, Fin24, Wall Street Journal and The Economist to keep abreast with relevant news updates globally. I even tweaked my LinkedIn profile to look more attractive to recruiters. Friends and acquaintances have coached me through mock interviews and given me pointers on how to position myself better as a job-seeker. Months of hard work have gone by and after many ‘promising’ interviews, I am still UNEMPLOYED!
*Job seekers are unlikely to be informed fully about job characteristics, and firms cannot exhaustively screen and negotiate with all applicants.
If it’s so challenging to find a job that’s a good fit for me, how much worse is it then for someone with little or no qualifications; no friends to coach them for interviews; no one to help them tweak their resume; no networks to keep them in the loop on employment opportunities?
There’s a term called discouraged workers (those who are long-term unemployed and have basically stopped looking as a result). I think about friends and relatives who have become discouraged workers because finding a job is so hard and they have no support to position themselves properly in the labour market. Some are not even based in areas with the right job opportunities; so the cost of traveling to a particular location to submit their resumes or attend interviews is high. Moreover, what about the inequalities in Internet/Wifi access!
As an Economics major, I am fully aware of the high youth unemployment rates on our continent. Personal stories from my dear friends in Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Kenya about the employment struggle constantly play in my head. As a current data point in the pool of unemployed youth myself, the sobering statistics hold heavier weight to me…
Job hunting is emotionally, mentally and physically taxing. I have ping-ponged between feelings of frustration, inadequacy, discontentment and discouragement. I have felt so stagnant. Sometimes I’ve felt alone in the struggle, making it easier to withdraw: at some point I started to avoid events and public gatherings in an effort to hide. I grew tired of figuring out how I’d phrase this current life stage of job hunting when people asked.
Of course, I’m a positive young lady and I’m taking it one day at time. I do believe things will work out. Texts like these from Dad also help!
Youth make up majority of the African population. Their livelihood is pertinent for the sustainability of the future: In other words, we are the development priority. It’s youth month in South Africa and I have been reflecting on how many youths on the continent are dissatisfied. Even those with impressive qualifications cannot be absorbed by the labour markets in their home countries. Most are not empowered or supported to start their own businesses. Such circumstances can lead to depression (and possibly suicide), crime as a result of desperation, idleness, envy, anger; etc. There’s no freedom in that!
The plight of youth has become more personal to me because I am experiencing the difficulty of finding a job in spite of my qualifications. After each rejection call or e-mail, I have to pluck up the strength and motivation to try again. How much more difficult is it then for other young South Africans with fewer resources than mine?
What should our response be?