As someone who works in HR, I get exposed to a lot of young people looking for work – and a lot of businesses looking for young people who need work. You’d think, like a jigsaw puzzle, I’d be able to put these together and create a magical match of people who need work, with people who need workers.
Alas, this is not so.
On a recent show on South Africa’s TalkRadio station 702, Liesel Smith-Eksteen from Youth Employment Services was interviewed. These are some of the frightening statistics that she shared with listeners.
South Africa’s unemployment rate of 27,2% is the stuff of nightmares.
Its youth unemployment rate of 38,2% is an existential threat.
There are 6,1 million young people in South Africa who cannot find a job.
Despite these outrageous statistics, employers are still struggling to find good, competent young people with the skills required to enter and participate effectively in the workplace. Here are some of the reasons for this:
It’s not what you know…
The old adage that says that success comes from who we know and the networks we have built is absolutely true. While this is not the right article to get into an argument about White Privilege, it has to be acknowledged that having a network of people in influential positions is helpful in getting a job. The reality is that the majority of young people in our country do not have these networks. Their parents and networks are unemployed or employed in jobs where they yield little influence.
Most companies use the internet to advertise jobs. If they do use newspapers or other methods like posters, they still expect a CV to be emailed. Lack of consistent access to email and internet facilities creates a barrier for many young people trying to get into the job market.
The rules of the game
The years of inequality in our country has resulted in the fact that many of our young people have not grown up around positive role models who are experienced in the workplace. Thus they haven’t been exposed to understanding some of the unwritten rules of the world of work. These include:
- Why it is important to notify someone if you are unable to get to work
- Why you shouldn’t resign with immediate effect
- What you should wear to work
- How to build relationships
- How to handle conflict, etc
Ticket to ride
Once the young person has a job, it is usually at least a week, if a wage worker, or a month, if a salaried employee, before they get paid. A barrier here is that if they haven’t been working, then they have no money for transport to get to work before being paid. Employers don’t often consider this, and young employees are often unsure how to ask for help.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list, but it does give some indication as to why we are struggling to match scores of employers with unemployed young people.
So, what are we doing about it?
The phrase on everybody’s lips at the moment is ‘YES Initiative’. It was certainly a big focus of the President’s Jobs Summit last week. It is also an industry buzzword because there is a proverbial BEE points carrot dangling within easy arm’s reach for those companies who choose to participate.
The YES Initiative is essentially an attempt at realising government’s dream of creating over one million jobs for young people over the next three years by partnering with large corporates. In doing this, a young person would gain a year’s much-sought-after work experience, which employers demand to see on the CVs of prospective employees.
It is a great idea, and I think that if it works it will be successful in creating a meaningful impact. However, this project has been in the pipeline for over two years and has been met with many obstacles and meaningless bureaucracy.
Now it finally appears to be getting its legs – let’s hope that the experts who are predicting only a 10-20% success rate are wrong and that we really do start to see some measurable impact.
In the meantime, private and non-governmental organisations have been doing the work that YES is setting out to achieve for years.
In particular, the Catholic Institute of Education’s (CIE) Thabiso Skills Institute “is a support agency for faith-based skills development centres. […] These centres contribute to improving the lives of people living in the poorest and most marginalised communities by providing practical skills training to youth and the unemployed.
“The role of the CIE Thabiso Skills Institute is to create an enabling and conducive environment that assists the skills development centres to function as centres of excellence in skills development, employment creation and poverty alleviation.” (CIE, 2018).
The CIE Thabiso Skills Institute has been directly involved in attempting to address some of the barriers described above. Each of the centres in their network provides an intensive 2-week life skills training programme. The purpose of this is to assist in readying learners for the world of work and life. This is an experiential programme developing the learners’ self-esteem and self-confidence, assisting them with CV writing, preparing them for job interviews and instilling in them a good work ethic.
The CIE Thabiso Skills Institute also works closely with the centres in the network to help learners find workplaces for the purposes of workplace-based learning (WPBL). This experience in the workplace provides learners with important opportunities.
They are able to begin to build a network of influential people who can help them find more permanent jobs and to learn the “rules of work” in a less threatening environment. Employers understand that the learners are primarily there to learn and be mentored. Thus when learners ‘break the rules’ of the workplace, the host employer uses this as an opportunity for learning and correcting behaviour, rather than for throwing the rulebook at them and immediately resorting to disciplinary action. Where possible, learners are also provided with an upfront cash advance to assist them in paying for travel costs when starting work.
Commenting on the recent Jobs Summit, and in particular on the problems which come from high youth unemployment, Bishop Abel Gabuza, the president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference Justice and Peace Commission (J&P) said, “generally, we are happy with the resolutions of the summit. At the same time, we believe that the summit could have achieved far-reaching results if the civil society, academic institutions, faith leaders, unemployed youth and women had a space at the table.” The J&P has, like many other civil society organisations, also called for a “basic income grant and a serious review of youth wage subsidy”.
Our youth unemployment crisis is not a job crisis – jobs exist. It is a skills and access crisis. But if the government can honestly, and with integrity, collaborate with and enlist the help of interested industry partners it is definitely something that can be overcome.