I just returned from Washington DC and presented at the Youth Workforce Development module of the Mobiles for Learning Symposium. The Symposium was an eye opener and, of the many insights and reminders of what it will take to scale up a workable model to deal with South Africa’s unemployment crisis, the matter of meaningful employment caught my attention.
Digging out Charles Handy’s mid-nineties classic, Beyond Certainty, I realized just yet again that our remedies for unemployment does not deal adequately with the matter of meaningful work. In the last 20 years, for example, South Africa’s seen a boost in tourism that explained the root of rising employment opportunities and I would be very interested to know just exactly what new meaningful jobs emerged from this growth spurt. Also, how many of these jobs started as a casual job and how many turned out to be permanent? The reason for that last question is based on an assumption that I hold. Many jobs that were started as casual, part-time employment became a permanent and only source of income. Also, these jobs, especially in tourism, were occupied by activities deemed to be meaningful such as stacking shelves, packing and unpacking boxes, selling t-shirts, polishing off Ndebele dolls – something Charles Handy so depressingly described as “…drudgery, not the decent work we demand as the right of all…”. What I am not sure about, however, is the extent to which this is the case in South Africa today.
What I do know, and a great deal from personal experiences related to me and what I know of from family, is that more South Africans have, over the last 20 years found employment as a result of the increasing numbers of foreign visitors to its shores doing exactly what Handy describes. Long hours are spent in the Malls and Shopping Centers built in strategic proximity to tourist attractions.
Can there be a vision of hope for the future out of this drudgery and what does meaningful work really look like?