The Youth Employment Service (YES) launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa this week has been cautiously welcomed by organised labour, which insists that the only solution to South Africa’s unemployment crisis is to change the country’s economic policies.

Labour federations Cosatu and the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) this week said that, although they welcomed the new scheme, there was an urgent need for structural changes to the economy to fully absorb young people into permanent employment.

The two federations believe the beneficiation of minerals would be a first step toward creating new industries and jobs in a country whose unemployment rate is among the highest in the world.

The new employment initiative, launched on Tuesday, is led by the private sector in conjunction with the government and labour. It aims to create one million job opportunities for young people within three years, in the form of one-year internships with participating companies that sign up to the YES database.

There is no promise of permanent employment thereafter but the project’s initiators say research indicates that having a year of work experience under their belt increases young people’s chances of future employment.

But Cosatu general secretary Bheki Ntshalintshali warned that, despite the optimistic outlook on the benefits of these internships, the YES initiative ran the risk of leaving young people feeling more frustrated because the economy at present provided little promise of absorbing them into permanent jobs.

“The issue for us is not the supply side; it’s about the demand side.