Youth service and volunteering programmes contribute to skills development in South Africa

By: Salah Elzein Mohamed [1]

Youth service and volunteering programmes are set to play an important role in providing the skills needed to achieve economic growth in South Africa. The government’s newly launched Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (ASGI-SA) has identified the shortage of skills as one of the greatest impediments to both the public infrastructure and private investment programmes. Skilled employees such as artisans and technicians, as well as professionals, scientists and managers, are among the priority skills required to achieve an annual growth rate of 4.5% between 2005 and 2009, and at least 6% between 2010 and 2014.

Developing skills for employment or self-employment among the youth of South Africa is one of the core principles that underpin the implementation of the national youth service. It is also one of the aims of the Umsobomvu [2] Youth Fund (UYF), which was established by the government in January 2001. Currently, UYF is driving a number of initiatives that support youth skills development and transfer. These initiatives include the School to Work Programme, the Youth Service Programme and the newly launched Youth Voluntarism Programme.

School to Work Programme

The School to Work Programme provides support to unemployed matriculants and tertiary graduates, mainly from black communities. The goal is to enable these young people to acquire the skills and knowledge that will help them to secure employment in strategic sectors of the economy such as accounting, engineering, information and communication technologies, agriculture, sports and recreation, etc.

Initially, the programme was implemented through partnerships with NGOs, higher education institutions and private service providers. However, these partnerships were concentrated in metropolitan areas and proved to be expensive. In 2004, the UYF decided to involve the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges in the implementation of the programme. The colleges are distributed nationally and exist in both urban and rural areas, giving the programme wider coverage. So far, 30 FET colleges are involved in the project and 2500 graduates have benefited.

In the context of ASGI-SA, the UYF intends to increase the number of FET colleges involved in the programme to 50, and beneficiaries of this programme to 5000 during 2006; and ultimately 10 000 graduates annually. In addition to the School to Work programme, UYF is also involved in the National Youth Service Programme and Youth Voluntarism Programmes, which have skills development components.

The Youth Service Programme

UYF is responsible for the operational activities for the National Youth Service Programme. These are managed by UYF and the National Youth Commission under a Partnership Project Team chaired by the Minister in the Presidency, and attended by a range of government institutions as well as the youth representative structures. In addition, UYF directly undertakes projects that form part of the National Youth Service Programme.

These programmes aim to enable unemployed young people to acquire skills that will help them achieve economic independence, and at the same time benefit their communities by completing a community service project that contributes to a national or local development objective. They also aim to build a culture of service amongst young people.

The youth service programme focuses on developing technical skills as well as life-skills. It operates in the building and construction sector, the provision of home-based care, and agriculture and conservation. So far, 3500 unemployed young people have participated in projects. Some projects are managed directly by the government and others are managed by service providers appointed by UYF. All the projects support government priorities.

Youth Volunteerism Programme

Alongside the structured national youth service programme in South Africa, which was launched in 2003, UYF is embarking on a new youth voluntarism programme. This programme aims to foster social cohesion and nation building, as well as to enable young people to acquire much-needed practical experience.

Target groups for this programme include students in higher education and further education, unemployed young graduates, and young adult professionals who are targeted to volunteer their skills to teach mathematics and science at schools and transfer rare skills to local communities. The programme also aims to involve young people in conflict with the law, young people in vulnerable circumstances such as homelessness, as well as youth organisations and youth businesses. It is anticipated that these target groups will benefit from the programme through being supported by mentors.

Through the mentorship programme, the experience attained through participation, and skills development, young people will be able to carry out various types of service. It is anticipated that this programme will, on a very wide scale, enable young people to acquire the requisite skills to participate in the economy. Equally important, the programme will enable the young participants to acquire the values that relate to making a full and positive contribution to the community and society more generally.


Overall, youth service and volunteering programmes are already seen to be making a significant contribution in addressing the challenge of skills shortage in South Africa. These programmes are mobilising existing skills to serve voluntarily where they are needed. They are also contributing to skills development of unemployed youth, especially from previously disadvantaged communities. The ability of these programmes to target larger numbers of young people is viewed as the key challenge going forward.

In addition, UYF sees ASGI-SA as providing an opportunity for accelerating and expanding employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for young South Africans. The fund intends to utilise the experience gained from developing and implementing skills development programmes during its five years of existence to contribute to the realisation of ASGI-SA’s objectives.

However, a key question in this regard is to what extent do these programmes match the scope and quality of skills required by ASGI-SA? It is critically important that UYF and other government institutions involved in ASGI-SA address this question while the programme is in its early stages.

[1] Vosesa Coordinator
[2] Umsobomvu is a Nguni word that means ‘a rising dawn’. The UYF was created in 2001 with a mandate to create a platform for job creation, skills development and skills transfer for South Africa’s young people. For more information visit: