Unemployment research with a difference

Annette Willemse -- Thu, 11/20/2014 - 08:39

Unemployment research with a difference

Much has been written in the media and published by researchers on the sensitive topic of unemployment, especially in South Africa. Unemployment is believed by many to be the root cause of crime and other social ills in our country today.

Although many theories have been proposed and strategies put in place by government and other organisations, most are one-sided and comes from an economic perspective. 

Unemployment hinders the achievement of South Africa's two key strategic objectives: eliminating poverty and reducing inequality. It has detrimental consequences: at the macro level the inactivity of many workers reduces the potential for economic growth. At the intermediate level low income households are heavily burdened by the responsibility of supporting many dependants; and at the micro level unemployed individuals suffer directly by being unemployed.  Furthermore the burden of unemployment is distributed unequally among various population groups in South Africa.

The Optentia Research Focus Area (Optimal Expression of Individual, Social and Institutional Potential - with specific interest in the African context) on the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal), together with the Leuven University (Belgium)  , recently initiated the project "Experiences of Unemployment" to investigate the matter from various perspectives and fields of study. 

The project is funded by the Flemish Interuniversity Board. The project leaders are Optentia Director, Prof Ian Rothmann and extraordinary professors Prof Hans de Witte and Prof Anja Van Den Broeck. Presently, PhD student Melinda du Toit is busy engaging role players working in communities; those conducting research; departments in government and organisations whose goal is alleviating unemployment in their communities; and ordinary residents living in areas hardest hit by unemployment. Discussions with these role players are focused on discovering what keeps people unemployed in the broadest sense.

Most disciplines investigate unemployment as it relates to the particular discipline, whilst issues on the periphery of the various disciplines ultimately end up being excluded from scientific inquiry into unemployment.  To start on a path towards practical answers to the problem of unemployment, Optentia facilitated a workshop between the various role players in July this year to start an exchange of ideas and perspectives. 

A number of PhD students will be taking part in this research project set to run for four years. Among the advantages for these students are bursaries to do their PhD study; joint publishing opportunities with established researchers from the North-West University and the University of Leuven; and finally, spending over the next 4 years a total of 3 to 4 month periods in Leuven to further develop their skills.

The overall aim of this project is to expand on what is known about South Africans' experience of unemployment. The project further aims to assist existing community organisations to develop and implement an evidence-based intervention to alleviate the burden of unemployment individuals and foster their ability to adapt to the labour market. According to Prof Rothmann the idea is not only to empower the unemployed, but also to encourage all groups involved, like aid workers and community organisations. In order to sustainably support evidence-based interventions, the project aims to enhance research capacity and stimulate scholars to conduct research in general and on unemployment in particular.