International researchers collaborate to understand unemployment

“No job, no food, please help.” These words on makeshift cardboard signs can be seen at every street corner on any given day in South Africa. With an unemployment rate of 26,7% in the first quarter of 2018, it comes as no surprise that South Africa is one of 20 nations with the highest unemployment figures in the world.

Yet there is hope. The Optentia research focus area at the North-West University’s (NWU’s) campus in Vanderbijlpark has teamed up with the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium in understanding this problem and finding ways to intervene.

Sponsored by the Flemish Interuniversity Board, the project has over the past five years been investigating the experiences of unemployed people in the townships of South Africa. The overall aim of the project was to advance knowledge on the subject and develop and evaluate an evidence-based intervention to alleviate unemployed individuals’ burden and foster their adaptive orientation towards the labour market by enhancing their well-being.

This was the mission of three PhD students: Leoni van der Vaart (who studied different psychological types of unemployed people and their motivation), Melinda du Toit (who aimed to get community and entrepreneurial perspectives on the matter) and Rachele Paver (whose role was to evaluate current interventions and develop and evaluate a sustainable intervention).  

Each would then graduate with a joint PhD from the NWU and KU Leuven. Leoni van der Vaart recently obtained her joint PhD, while Melinda du Toit has submitted her thesis for examination.

Research in the community

The research took the trio to the dusty roads of Orange Farm, a township south of Johannesburg. Access to the community was gained through Mr Bricks Mokolo, a well-known figure in the community who assisted Melinda to identify research assistants from within the community. As the research progressed, constant feedback was received from and given to the community through the Unemployment Research Advisory Board, which comprised community leaders, members and entrepreneurs.  

Rachele’s search for an intervention led her to meeting Prof Roland Blonk from Tilberg University in the Netherlands setting the wheels in motion for the Qhubekela Phambili (QP) intervention programme. Derived from the Zulu phrase “moving forward”, the project aims to prepare job seekers to enter the job market.

Project encourages others

The project also involves encouraging other scholars to do research on unemployment. This is the aim of a symposium planned for 13 and 14 September 2018, under the theme “Dealing with Unemployment in South Africa: Research and Intervention”.

“International scientific collaboration in this research project developed the abilities of researchers, students, business people, government officials and communities,” says Prof Ian Rothmann, director of Optentia. “They are now able to scrutinise, debate on the matter and share experiences. Such collaboration is essential for academic and scientific accomplishment. Moreover, it is said that “What is good for the student is good for the university.” This was proven in the unemployment project.”

The three PhD students are Melinda du Toit, Leoni van der Vaart and Rachele Paver, with them are Prof Roland Blonk from Tilberg University and Prof Ian Rothmann, director of the Optentia research focus area.


Submitted on Thu, 07/19/2018 - 16:23