IT WAS Youth Day on Saturday. Youth? Now there's a subject I'm an expert on. Not only was I once youthful, but I've shared my home with a youngster for nearly 18 years - and we've survived to tell the tale. What's more, I'm working on a project that, among other things, looks at youth unemployment.
It's a depressing exercise. A survey conducted by the South African Institute of Race Relations found 51% of South Africans between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed. And there's no evidence things are going to improve fast. The survey claimed the average job created by a government programme lasts 46 days. It's particularly worrying because the longer young people are unemployed, the more unemployable they become. That's not to say the youngsters I encounter - usually with their heads buried in my fridge - are concerned: they're all planning a gap year, sometimes pausing between bites and plotting their travels to consider studying further. These kids are confident, invincible and worryingly naive. By and large, they're indifferent to the fact that, for many of them, the gap between education and employment won't last a year; it'll be indefinite.
What's the solution? Youth wage subsidies? Skills development programmes?
Some initiatives, like those undertaken by organisations such as digital communicators and business incubators RLabs and Bozza, tap into what turns youngsters on these days: technology.
Once considered an enemy of job-seekers (added automation meant less manpower), it's now accepted that technology also creates opportunity.
It's also accepted that youngsters know how to use technology. Statistics say 90% of urban youths in SA have cellphones. And, in his new eBook, New Urban Tribes of South Africa, Dion Chang claims: "South African youths access the internet from their cellphones about five times more than the global average."
But how does this translate into opportunity? One way is demonstrated by crowd-funding website Kickstarter, which helps people raise money for their projects: entrepreneurs develop a project and apply to Kickstarter to have it posted on the site. If successful, they choose a deadline and a minimum funding target. If the target is not achieved by the deadline, no funds are collected. Investors are typically rewarded with items produced by the project itself but rewards can be anything that brings backers in.
Kickstarter was founded in 2008 and, by May, had more than $230m pledged and had successfully funded more than 23000 projects. Its success rate is 44%. At the time of writing, the website featured a project involving "adhesive labels that convert things into postcards" by Cape Town graphic designer Tatjana Buisson. Her minimum target was $4000 but, with two days to go until deadline, backers had already pledged $10127 to the project.
Of course, it remains to be seen how much kick-ass will be required around the fridge before the teens I know are in any way kick-started.