Following the declaration of a national state of disaster in March 2020, the CBPEP committed to supporting the Presidency in its response to the social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the effects of extended risk-adjusted lockdowns unfolded it became clear that the focus should be on designing and implementing an employment stimulus package. Priority was given to areas of greatest capacity, social impact and opportunity that could be scaled rapidly.
The CBPEP supported the Presidency with the establishment of the Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES) package in collaboration with 11 national departments. The work undertaken by the PES is designed to have wide-ranging benefits beyond the immediate need to supplement lost incomes. The simulus aims to support livelihoods as the labour market recovers, while simultaneously investing in public goods and services, enhancing skills and employability, and boosting demand in the economy. It supports both existing public employment programmes as well as innovative livelihood support mechanisms needed as a consequence of the pandemic.
As we rebuild, the aim is not to return to how things used to be, but to build back better, in ways that transform our economy and society. Through public employment, lasting jobs can be created and other forms of livelihood and enterprise activity supported. Injecting money into the economy by means of expenditure on wages, grants and services such as access to broadband has a bottom-up stimulus effect, helping to gear the economy for renewed growth.
The pandemic has exacerbated South Africa’s pre-existing crises of poverty and unemployment. The PES is the most rapid expansion of public employment programmes in South Africa’s history, and seeks to confront the impact of the pandemic directly, as part of the government’s broader economic recovery agenda.
PES in action
The stimulus is building on many existing public investments in employment creation. This includes a long history of policy support to public employment, coordinated by the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The EPWP’s existing targets remain vital to the overall employment effort. Strategic infrastructure projects will also contribute significantly to employment creation, as will all other existing commitments such as the Presidential Youth Employment Initiative (PYEI).
Through the EPWP, in collaboration with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment, unemployed South Africans continue to be employed in natural resource management programmes. An example of an infrastructure development project is the Welisizwe Rural Bridges Programme, which will make it much safer to travel to work or school. In another example, the early childhood development sector was identified as one of the hardest hit during the pandemic. A stimulus relief fund was set up to provide innovative forms of livelihood support, helping those working in the sector by providing income grants.
CBPEP’s role and contribution
CBPEP supported the PMO in the Presidency with resources to design, develop and secure funding for the employment stimulus package. CBPEP also advised the Presidency on communication around COVID-19 initiatives, for instance, consulting on user experience design of the government's UIF website and the creation of walkthrough videos to help the public to navigate the site.
The Presidential Youth Employment Initiative (PYEI) is a government initiative to address the youth unemployment crisis by co-ordinating, enhancing and scaling up existing programmes across government and through close partnerships with the private sector. The PYEI will implement five priority actions over the next five years to change the trajectory of youth employment in South Africa:
1. Building a National Pathway Management Network.
2. Implementing agile, demand-led workforce development programmes.
3. Supporting the township and rural economy.
4. Providing opportunities for workplace experience.
5. Revitalising the National Youth Service Programme.
This intervention builds on existing policies and focuses on addressing gaps in the policy landscape. It draws together a wide range of partners and is driven from the Presidency, co-ordinated by the PMO.
During the first five years the programme aims to:
• engage 3 million young work seekers in a National Pathway Management Network to help them grow their employability;
• engage 500 000 young people in sustainable work opportunities through workforce development programmes; and
• create 1.5 million temporary paid work opportunities.
Throughout its capacity-building journey CBPEP has learnt valuable lessons. Some of the key learnings from the design and implementation of the Presidential Employment Stimulus (PES) package included:
Putting the citizen at the centre:
The Presidential Employment Stimulus package was a crisis intervention that provided a critical lifeline to South African citizens during the COVID pandemic. In order to provide real-time and direct support, all of the PES interventions were designed with the citizen’s most critical and immediate needs in mind.
Innovate, adapt and iterate:
The dual aim of bolstering existing public-employment programmes and designing new innovative job-creation initiatives called for true out-the-box thinking. The PES therefore became a ‘sandbox for innovation’ with many government departments coming on board and seizing the opportunity to do things differently.
Always add value… then the magic happens:
CBPEP was able to swiftly pivot to support the presidency with the design and roll-out of PES. It added value in its ability to quickly mobilise resources, and streamline and simplify decision-making processes, allowing for the rapid deployment of experts and implementation on the ground.
The PES supports a spectrum of opportunities, focusing on job creation through public employment; job retention in vulnerable sectors; direct support to livelihood strategies; and fast-tracking high-impact employment enablers.
The PES is the most rapid expansion of public employment programmes in South Africa’s history. The Presidency has released three progress reports since the programme launched in October 2020.
The Presidential Employment Stimulus has created a platform to track the performance of its various programmes. It is an online dashboard that reflects work in progress including beneficiary and budget data which is updated monthly.
This paper, written by Rudi Dicks, the Head of the PMO in the Presidency, highlights five priority actions taken by government to accelerate youth pathways into the economy over the next five years.