Why youth development programmes are critical to the SA success story

Even as South Africa slowly emerges from the suffocating economic grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, recently released employment statistics continue to make for grim reading, with nearly eight million people unemployed.

South Africa actually recorded improved economic activity in the fourth quarter of 2021, including an expansion in real GDP of 1.2% compared to the previous quarter, but unemployment still reached record levels.

Denice Dumisa

According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS), unemployment in Q4 last year rose to 35.3% from 34.9% in the previous quarter. This is the highest level since the start of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey in 2008. 

Even more alarmingly, the youth unemployment rate stood at a staggering 65.5%.

The latest employment data was released at the end of March by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), and came just days after South Africa managed to attract R1.2 trillion in investment during the fourth South Africa Investment Conference. 

Analysts have described the country’s economy as “producing jobless growth” and believe that even with upward economic growth in the medium term, South Africa will still have an overall unemployment figure of around 30%.

Youth unemployment is a global issue, even more acutely pronounced in South Africa, where the most recent figures are sounding critical alarm bells.

In late 2021, Stats SA reported that two out of every three young people under the age of 35 in South Africa are unemployed. For the age cohort under 25, this rises to three out of every four, or a jarring 75%.

But in and amongst the dire unemployment statistics there are rays of light on how to begin to effectively address this socio-economic crisis.

Education is key 

According to the QLFS report, of the 7,9 million unemployed persons in the fourth quarter of 2021, as many as 51,6% had education levels below matric.

This number of unemployed drops the higher the education level. Those with a Matric pass constitute 38.6% of unemployed and this figure drops substantially for those with other tertiary qualifications (6.9%) and graduates who constitute only 2.4% of South Africa’s formal unemployed.

Astron Energy’s Organisational Capability, Learning and Development Manager Lindiwe Ncongwane said: “It is an often repeated mantra that education is the key to success, but the labour force survey certainly bears this out.

“Education allied to opportunity is the golden key to breaking this cycle of unemployment and to create a future for young people in the country.”

Astron Energy, which operates South Africa’s second largest network of retail sites including the Caltex brand, runs a number of Youth Development Programmes covering both academic support and workplace and experiential learning opportunities.

Astron Energy’s Youth Development Programmes include:

  • Learnerships
  • Bursaries
  • Apprenticeships
  • In-Service-Training
  • Graduate Internship Programme


According to Ncongwane, South African Corporates have a key role to play in providing opportunities for graduates and those with other qualifications to help reduce the number of unemployed, and also to help build a generation of employable young people.

“Investments in training and skills development, allied to education qualifications, will help build a workforce that is multi-skilled and able to adapt to a multitude of tasks and industries,” she said.

The 2020 Future of Work report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that 50% of all employees will need reskilling by 2025 as adoption of technology increases. 

The report also listed critical thinking and problem-solving as leading skills employers believe will be needed over the next five years, while newer trends centre on self-management skills such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility.

According to Ncongwane, a key part of Astron Energy’s focus is to equip young people for the world of work, not only at Astron Energy and the petrochemical industry, but the across a range of disciplines to enable them to be globally competitive. 

The company also runs a number of school-level initiatives in the STEM space, but in line with the 4th Industrial Revolution’s focus on the 3Cs of Communication, Critical thinking and Collaboration, has broadened this to STEAM – Science, Technology, Arts and Maths – in a bid to develop problem-solving and process-based learning.

The way forward

“As a country, we have to continue investing in the education of our young people, particularly in the critical skills space, and then create opportunities for them to apply these skills and develop in workplace environments,” Ncongwane said.

“As corporates we need to design a range of programmes and initiatives to meet not only the needs of the business, but also the future of work – and critically the future employment possibilities for our young people.

“If we do this right, we can start changing the outlook on the employment front and ensure that economic growth has a tangible impact on the futures and livelihoods of the generations to come.”

In the Youth Development space, Astron Energy runs the following programmes:


8 X Learnerships in chemical operations at the Astron Energy refinery in Milnerton, Cape Town

20 X Learnerships in Sales and New Venture Creation at Johannesburg offices

The Learnerships run from 1 Oct 2021 – 30 Sep 2022 


Astron Energy runs a full Bursary programme which covers both under graduate and post graduate studies, from 1st year to Masters Level students.

The bursaries include tuition fees, accommodation, books, meals, cash allowances and vacation work in the form of internship/in-service-training within the company’s operations.

The programme started in 2020 and to date over 440 students have been funded.

There are currently 196 student bursars and 15 employee bursars as part of this programme. A total of 26 employee children are part of the bursary programme for 2022. 

The bursary covers a range of study fields this year including: 

BSc: Chemical Engineering/ BSc: Industrial Engineering/ BSC: Property Studies/ Masters: Industrial Psychology/ Honours: Financial Accounting/ Bcom: Economics/ BSc: Electrical Engineering/ Bcom/BA: Human Resources Management/ Bcom: Information Technology/ Bcom: Internal Auditing/ Bcom: Logistics/ Occupational Health and Safety/ Bcom: Supply Chain/ BSc: Analytical Chemistry.

Astron Energy also offers successful bursars the opportunity to be part of the Astron Energy Graduate Training programme. 


Astron Energy offers 24-month Apprenticeships in Electrical and Mechanical Engineering and Instrumentation at the refinery in Cape Town. At present, the company has six apprenticeships in its manufacturing division. 

Graduate Programme

The Graduate Internship Programme is run according to the various disciplines required by the business and runs for a period of between 18-24 months. The current intake of Graduate interns is set to end on 31 December 2022.


Astron Energy currently has 77 participants in its Learnership, Apprenticeship and Graduate Internship programmes:

LogisticsGraduate Internship13
CFOGraduate Internship11
RetailGraduate Internship5
HRGraduate Internship3
C & IGraduate Internship2
CEOGraduate Internship2
ManufacturingGraduate Internship1
STOGraduate Internship3
Strategy Graduate Internship2
SHEQGraduate Internship1
ManufacturingChemical Operations Learnership8
Why youth development programmes are critical to the SA success story

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