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Ravi Naidoo - 31 March 2023

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Johannesburg - Four years ago, the Youth Employment Service (Yes) was created by the private sector as an important contribution to addressing South Africa’s crippling youth unemployment crisis. Youth unemployment, a crisis of history, education, and low economic growth has left two in three youth jobless.

This month, Yes passed the 100 000 youth jobs milestone, making it the largest scale job creation programme that is entirely funded by the private sector. That’s worth celebrating, for many reasons.

For a start, we haven’t just created 100 000 jobs. We’ve given 100 000 young people the skills, work experience, and social networks they need to contribute to the economy for the next 40 years and beyond. We’ve created jobs with impact that will act as a catalyst to create more employment inside and outside their current job sectors. It is these future professionals, entrepreneurs and change-makers who will drive our economic prosperity in the years to come.

The impact on social mobility is considerable. 61% of Yes Youth come from social grant-recipient households and 77% have dependants. Right now, South Africa ranks 77th out of 82 countries on the WEF’s Global Social Mobility Index 2020, which reflects the ability of a child to experience a better life than their parents. Without access to programmes such as Yes, it will take nine generations for a person born into poverty to reach the middle-class. Better social mobility means we can build a broader economic base for a sustainable future.

However, given the low rates of economic growth, South Africa is currently producing neither the volume nor type of jobs required to reverse the current unemployment trend. Currently, more than 400 000 new job-seekers enter the market every year, but the country has only created around an average of 150 000 net jobs per year since over the past 10 years.

On its own, no special programme can directly generate enough youth jobs to compensate for the lack of economic growth. However, if programmes are catalytic in their structure, they can have a longer-term multiplier effect that far exceeds the direct jobs created.

If we get as many of our talented youth as possible into meaningful roles in the economy, they will be able to generate the jobs and future-facing businesses that South Africa so desperately needs. This can be done through unleashing the potential of the country’s youth by creating a talent pipeline for young people from poor households to enter the economy.

In other words, putting our best young talent to work is the key to future economic success. According to the International Labour Office’s G20 Skills Strategy, the development of higher-level skills – professional, technical and human resource skills – enables workers to profit from or create opportunities for high-quality and/or high-wage jobs. And Research by UK-based think-tank Centre for Cities suggests that for every 10 jobs created in skilled businesses, and in particular high-tech businesses, up to 25 jobs are created in local services.

In the past 12 months, Yes put around 30 000 young people into pathways that will lead them to becoming game-changers in the public and private sectors. Yes research shows that 40% of alumni are currently employed, and 15% of all Yes Youth are involved in entrepreneurial activity.

The phenomenon of youth going into entrepreneurial activities is particularly interesting. Take 25-year-old Chulumanco Lonwabo Nomtyala, who completed his Yes programme through the Microsoft Development Pathway. With a degree in Human Settlement Development, he saw an opportunity to help people with housing subsidy applications and designed an App that helps people apply for housing subsidies.

As Stats SA points out, prior work experience, particularly quality experience that provides social networks, makes a huge difference to your economic prospects. In fact, prior work experience makes you seven times more likely to transition into full-time employment. Kgomotso Sekhu, 29, was the first in her family to get a degree – a BSc in Mathematics at the University of Pretoria. But she couldn’t find a job. Today, she’s a business intelligence analyst, thanks to her Yes programme that was sponsored by Nedbank.

To date, many of the Yes jobs are being created in future-facing industries such as drones, tech/ICT, creative, tourism, coding, and finance. Mawanda Faniso, 31, was part of the first Yes Drone Academy programme at the Genesis Hub in Saldanha in 2021, which saw a 100% absorption rate post-training. He left the academy with a remote pilot’s licence (RPL), which allows him to fly, fix and work on drones. He’s not only employed, but there’s a real demand for his services.

There are millions of Mawandas, Kgomotsos and Lonwabos out there. And, typically, they need three things to get the big break in life. One is the right attitude: resilience, an eagerness to learn, a passion to better themselves and their circumstances. Two is the right support – in this case, from the 1 400 corporates who support the Yes programme, and the support the programme provides. And three, as we all know very well, is the right amount of luck (say, for instance, government introducing policies that boost economic growth).

Imagine if, within the next 10 years, even 10% of our Yes Alumni go on to become successful professionals or entrepreneurs, then we are looking at a massive job and economic impact. If our youth have hope in their eyes, and not despair. If we are going to move the dial on unemployment in our lifetime, we must focus less on low-impact and temporary jobs and look to create the next 100 000 young game-changers in the economy. Now that’s something to get the whole country celebrating.

'Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’


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