South Africa has a growing unemployment rate. Statistics show the unemployment rate to be above 60% for those aged 15-24 and over 40% for those aged 25-34 years. Rankings from the World Bank position South Africa as having the highest unemployment rate in the world.
This runaway unemployment rate not only creates precarious, limiting circumstances for individual young people but also poses a threat to the country’s economic growth and global competitiveness.
Another, much more positive statistic from the International Telecommunications Union positions young people as active adopters of technology. Three-quarters of 15- to 24-year-olds globally use the internet actively. Though the figures show this uptake to be mostly in developed countries, there is progress on the African continent in terms of technology infrastructure to lead to internet usage.
These developments are also noted in South Africa. The country’s internet penetration rate stood at 72.3% of the total population at the start of 2023. This paves the way for greater use of social media.
Our interest as researchers is how young people can use social media to overcome the unemployment challenge in South Africa.
A study we carried out found three key ways for young people to enhance their employability using social media. Our findings, like those of some other studies, place high importance on the role of social media in a context of high unemployment.
For the study, we interviewed 15 human resources specialists whose work largely focused on recruitment and selection. They help some of South Africa’s leading corporate companies to find the best candidates for certain roles. These were their three key pieces of advice.
1. Using social media to edify a personal brand
All the interviewees in our study agreed that social media could be used to edify an individual’s brand. This is something that is becoming common and encouraged globally.
The aim here is clear: through your social media activity you convey a message about yourself. This can be useful to reach out to the outside world in advertising your skills set. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn are a valuable resource for young jobseekers to achieve this.
2. Using social media to widen your networks
Once young people have an idea of what their online “brand” will be, they can start to network. This may be with other jobseekers or prospective employers. Networking offers an opportunity to learn about the world of work, including the challenging labour market. Using information from networking, young people can be better equipped to respond to uncertainty.
Networking on social media platforms could involve attending webinars and discussion forums. A number of social media platforms offer tools enabling interaction through text, audio or video. One participant in our research described the strength of networking like this:
Networking allows you to build your social capital on two fronts. First, you get access to interact with important stakeholders such as prospective employers. Second … not only information but a learning space from the experience of others.
Interviewees warned that young jobseekers should not compromise their personal brand. One said:
Graduates should be warned about the kind of stuff they should and should not post on social media and ensure that their online media presence is closely monitored and updated so that they are aware of what others can see about them. Social media allows for quick and easy judgement-making …
Universities should consider offering social media and personal branding training awareness so that future graduates are not only aware of complexities in the labour market but also prepared to meet them. Graduate placement offices within universities could take on this training role.
3. Using social media as a platform for continued learning
Social media presents young people with an endless reservoir of information about the world. It includes job postings, learnership and internship opportunities, and tips on how to be marketable in an ever changing job market.
One participant in our study with experience recruiting in the technology sector expressed this view:
For any young person I would say continue to use social media as a fountain of learning. Learn about the world of work through social media. Importantly, also learn about yourself and how you could fit into such a world.
Our research suggests that young people should learn how to search for job opportunities, and advertise their skills and profiles on social media. This can help them tap into a network that might give them a better chance in a situation of high unemployment.
High data costs remain a challenge. Companies and content developers can assist here in developing websites that can be accessed with no data cost implication.
Willie Tafadzwa Chinyamurindi, Professor, University of Fort Hare; Liezel Cilliers, Professor in Health Informatics, University of Fort Hare, and Obrain Tinashe Murire, Senior lecturer in People Development and Technology, Walter Sisulu University