Programme Objectives and Design
NYS in the South African context
The City Year experience of adapting a United States-based service model to the South African context highlights the emphasis placed on employability outcomes in the region. In reflecting on this process, Noguiera-Sanca and colleagues (2009) reported that the two biggest challenges faced were the extent to which service leaders in South Africa were motivated and driven by unemployment concerns and complying with the NYS requirements. They noted that the emphasis placed on linking participants to exit opportunities meant that “training must not only enable program participants to perform a service in a community, but also provide them with the necessary skills (and an opportunity for certification) for increased economic mobility upon completion of the program.” (VOSESA & ICP, 2013c)
National youth service programmes in the region are generally designed in response to particular political and socio-economic challenges facing the country. The 2013 landscape study found that commonly stated goals and objectives are nation-building, rural development, promoting peace and social development. Fourteen of the 15 active programmes studied in more depth have at least one stated goal or objective geared towards enhancing young people’s employability and preparing them for work or other livelihood options .
This interest in national youth service as a pathway to increased employability and entrepreneurship was also noted in a comparative study of youth volunteering in five Southern African Development community (SADC) countries (Patel, 2009). The study found that youth service goals in these countries have a strong focus on, amongst others, promoting sustainable livelihoods, developing skills and increasing opportunities for employment. Young participants themselves are often motivated by the same goals, viewing volunteering as a strategy to enhance their personal development (Moleni & Gallagher, 2007; Patel, 2009).
Many civic service programmes in this region provide young people with stipends. Although the stipends are usually small amounts, they can form an important source of income in areas where poverty is widespread. It is often argued that providing remuneration goes against the spirit of volunteerism, but the reality for many young people in sub-Saharan Africa is that they would be unable to participate in service programmes for an extended period without some financial support that enables them to survive and cover the costs associated with service activities (Lough & Sherraden, 2012) . Patel (2009) argues that criticisms of remuneration tend to reflect the views of civic service and volunteering in the global north and do not take into account the socio-economic realities of young people who live in poor countries with limited opportunities to improve their life chances. While one view of volunteering emphasises ‘doing good’ for the benefit of target beneficiaries, in the African context service programmes are often conceptualised as being mutually beneficial for both servers and beneficiaries (Moleni & Gallagher, 2007; Patel, 2009).
Thus, providing stipends and making tangible connections between service and increased employability are strategies that respond to the very real resource constraints faced by African youth. By the same token, the extent to which national youth service can realistically act as a pathway to employment and self-employment is constrained by the broader economic context in which they function and the level of interaction with labour market trends within these countries.
The next section considers ways in which national youth service programmes in the region can be designed and implemented to facilitate and support youth employability.