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YES NURTURES THE GAME-CHANGERS OF TOMORROW

Mail & Guardian | 14 June 2023


It provides the skills and work experience they need to navigate the world of employment.


Kgomotso Sekhu thought that she had made it. A young woman from a remote rural village, she had overcome massive adversity to get a degree in mathematics from the University of Pretoria. But cruelly, landing a job still seemed beyond her grasp.


Her quest for employment was hindered by numerous obstacles. Like millions of young jobseekers, she had no money for data or transport. She would use a local school’s Wi-Fi to send her documents and check for job posts.


Then she discovered the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme, and her life changed forever. In 2019, she started a 12-month work experience as a data management trainee at Nedbank. With the help of YES and Nedbank, she honed her skills, fostered her talent, and rose through the ranks. Today, she’s a business intelligence data analyst in Nedbank’s Wealth Division.


Sekhu is one of more than 113 000 young South Africans who have experienced the transformational effects of the YES programme, which aims to help shape the future workforce of the country by giving them the tools they need to navigate the world of employment and make their mark in society.


By nurturing young talent and providing opportunities, YES is creating an army of game changers — the skilled professionals, leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. These are the people who will be the future of the country.


YES fuels youth potential


YES works with the private sector to tackle South Africa’s persistent youth unemployment challenge by enabling, through powerful partnerships with the private sector, 12-month work experiences for the youth.


These jobs, which are 100% funded by the private sector, give the youth the necessary skills and professional exposure they need for future employment opportunities. In the process, more than R6 billion in youth salaries has been injected into local economies across the country.


Since its inception, YES has worked with more than 1 400 businesses of all sizes. They include corporate heavyweights such as Nedbank, Anglo American Platinum, The Foschini Group, Bidvest Protea Coin, BMW, Volkswagen South Africa, YUM! Pizza Hut, Investec, Toyota, Motus, SPAR group, Nestle, Mercedes-Benz, Multichoice and Ford.


By sponsoring youth jobs, these companies gain up to two levels up on their broad-based black economic empowerment (B-BBEE) scorecards, while integrating into their environmental, social, and/or governance (ESG) and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) strategies and reporting.


YES also offers a turnkey solution for businesses that want to create work opportunities and improve their B-BBEE scores, but are unable to provide relevant work or space within their organisation. In such cases, YES’s implementation partners (IPs) will recruit, contract and manage the youth on behalf of the business for the full year of work, including training and hosting costs.



Bryan Mposula’s journey: The YES impact


YES’s approach of identifying and leapfrogging talented individuals into promising careers highlights the success of its model. It creates a conduit between talented youth and potential employers who may not have had the chance to connect otherwise.


Bryan Mposula embarked on a 12-month journey of self-improvement and discovery at YES, acquiring valuable professional skills along the way.


After completing this, Mposula found a new beginning as a business integration arch associate at a top consulting firm. These positions are highly sought after and often competed for by people with multiple degrees and broad experience.


Keeping its finger on the pulse of SA youth


As the leading voice for youth employment in South Africa, YES is continuously striving to understand the evolving employment landscape and the unique needs of the youth it serves. This commitment has led to the implementation of the country’s most extensive youth survey, which surveys approximately 38 000 youth each quarter — the Youth Employment Survey.


This data-driven approach helps YES and its corporate partners curate successful programmes and effectively steer the youth towards meaningful, rewarding careers.

According to the latest figures, 42% of YES Alumni are currently employed.


As part of its strategy to address unemployment, YES is aligning its approach with so-called future-facing industries. Thousands of YES Youth have been placed in jobs like data capturers, business process outsourcing agents, cyber security agents, digital artisans, drone pilots and mechanics, content creators and software developers. Significantly, the survey shows that the top industries employing youth post-programme include the finance, creative, mining and digital sectors.


The transformative potential of the YES programme is already visible in the successes of its alumni. Their journeys serve as testament to the power of practical work experience and the importance of partnerships in addressing youth unemployment.


Saying YES to empowering change


Unemployed and struggling to gain admission into a university or college, Tasneem Eckardt’s life was a series of setbacks and disappointments. However, her story took a dramatic turn when she joined YES.


Through the programme, she gained vital skills that have since proven to be essential in the modern workplace. From understanding technology and its applications to acquiring proficiency in sending professional emails and using Google’s suite of tools, Eckardt has grown both personally and professionally.


Today, she works as a client support associate within the Department of Partnerships at Zlto. Her journey through the YES programme has not only empowered her own career, but also inspired her to pay it forward.


“My career path can be described as being a resource for others who undergo the same journey I have,” says Eckardt. “I want to be a motivation to others, giving them the same opportunities I was granted.”


A ripple effect on society


The effects of the YES programme extend well beyond the recipients of its 12-month work experience: it’s transforming entire families and communities. The Youth Employment Survey shows that as many as 62% of all YES Youth have children or family that depend on them financially. More than half (53%) come from grant recipient households. Every youth job that YES can create uplifts a family and a community in some way.


Kesha Koopman was a young mother of a two-year-old. But with no work experience, she faced the very real risk of becoming homeless. With no steady income, food insecurity had become a reality.


But everything started to change when she joined the YES programme. The programme gave her vital work skills, taught her effective communication and problem-solving methods, and even guided her in maintaining a professional appearance. YES also provided valuable lessons on managing conflict — a skill that would prove instrumental in her personal and professional life.


Her experience in the YES programme also helped her master key skills such as time management, effective communication and team collaboration. Each of these has played a crucial role in shaping her future, allowing her to trust her team and understand the importance of joint efforts in achieving greater results.


More importantly, through her transformation with YES, Koopman was able to effectively support her family. The stability that her career brought to her family was so profound that she was inspired to refer her cousin to the YES programme.


She now works as a product manager for Zlto, a position that offers her both personal fulfillment and professional growth. Reflecting on her transformation, she says: “Overall, YES has shaped me for the better. Through YES, I’ve been able to learn and understand the fundamentals of how to carry myself and how things work in a work environment.”


From YES programme to entrepreneurship


Another key source of future employment lies in empowering the youth to create their own small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures. While township economies are largely informal, they’re also far bigger than many realise. Starting a micro-business can be the first step a young person can take to get into the mainstream economy.


Currently, 4% of employed YES Alumni are running their own businesses as their “main hustle”. Another 15% of all YES Youth are engaging in “side hustles” over and above their day jobs, which is double the national average of 7%.


YES Alumni Sabelo Thabethe graduated from the ZIAO Coding Bootcamp through the programme, which kicked off a journey that led him to becoming a tech entrepreneur.

Harnessing his newly gained technical expertise and entrepreneurial skills, he collaborated with friends to establish his own fintech startup, Zaka Manager, which demystifies personal finance by offering insights into spending and transactional behaviour.


“We aim to tackle the issue of limited financial literacy, and low understanding regarding personal spending habits, by analysing transactions and providing valuable insights to users,” says Thabethe.


“The YES programme gave me essential abilities and understanding in business planning, marketing, and financial management. Thanks to the mentorship, I received invaluable guidance from seasoned entrepreneurs.”


The path to entrepreneurship is often paved with courage and initiative. Thobani May turned a pressing environmental issue in his community into an environmentally friendly business opportunity.


Concerned about the abundance of invasive wattle trees in his area, he saw an opportunity to use these alien trees to create Eco Char, an environmentally conscious business that produces charcoal. Eco Char not only helps restore the community’s land but also generates income, providing a practical solution to an environmental issue while contributing to the local economy.


What began as a small operation using recycled oil drums has evolved into a business using kilns that produce 20 times more charcoal. Each year, the business has experienced consistent growth, a testament to May’s commitment and entrepreneurial spirit. His business now employs five people.


Looking back on his journey, he credits the programme for preparing him for the rigours and rewards of entrepreneurship. The programme made him more hands-on and business savvy, equipping him with the necessary skills and knowledge that he continues to apply in running his business.


From side hustle to success


Asanda Nqoko, a talented 25-year-old photographer, was trying to make ends meet through ad-hoc gigs such as shooting events, but he yearned for stability and an opportunity to turn his side hustle into a legitimate, full-time business.


After learning about YES Hubs, he registered on the YES database, eager to use the resources and knowledge offered. He attended short workshops, sharpening his entrepreneurial acumen and preparing for his journey. When the Covid-19 pandemic swept through South Africa in 2020, shutting down events and plunging the industry into uncertainty, Nqoko felt the full force of the economic blow. He found himself with little to no work, struggling to afford even the basic necessities.


In February 2021, an email arrived from the YES head office, inviting young people to apply for open positions. He seized the opportunity with both hands. As part of the YES programme, he acquired skills in Excel, web development, Microsoft, and graphic design using Adobe programmes. The YES team became a supportive community, encouraging his development and even granting him certificates of completion for the online modules he finished.


Through participating in the YES programme, Nqoko reignited his photography passion, and his side business picked up. YES proved instrumental once again, providing entrepreneurship modules that equipped him with the tools to run a business effectively. A golden opportunity came his way when he got to shoot for the mega-star Beyoncé’s clothing brand, Ivy Park. This marked a turning point. His side hustle was ready to blossom into a full-fledged enterprise, 39 Pictures Ltd.


39 Pictures now employs four previously unemployed individuals, providing positions for a graphic designer, a lighting assistant, a camera assistant and a deals booker.


Turning dreams into digital reality


Born in Nomlacu and now based in Bizana in the Eastern Cape, Chulumanco Lonwabo Nomtyala is testament to the transformative power of the YES programme. At 25, he has already made a significant impact in his community, using technology to create solutions that improve the lives of his fellow South Africans.


His academic journey involved completing an Honours degree in Human Settlement Development at Nelson Mandela University, complementary certificates in Project Management Foundations and a Master’s in Demand Professional Soft Skills through LinkedIn Learning. He is also an alumnus of the YES programme.


Fuelled by a deep understanding of Human Settlement Development, he identified an opportunity to simplify the process of housing subsidy applications. His solution, an app called Soft 4IR Apps, allows people to easily apply for housing subsidies, streamlines the process for municipalities, and provides applicants with real-time updates throughout the application process.


By partnering with local municipalities, he aims to ensure a smoother, more transparent housing grant and subsidy application experience for everyone. His broader vision involves educating people about the range of available grants and subsidies available, ensuring they have the information they need to successfully access these resources.

“The Digital Pathway transformed my perspective on how people can thrive in the digital era,” he says. “Through this programme, I was able to develop an app that will enhance people’s livelihoods and simplify their lives. I am proud to offer a local solution.”


YES Alumni tips to other youth job seekers


There are several tips and tricks that YES has picked up by studying employed YES alumni through the Youth Employment Survey.


1. Develop skills for the future. The job market is continuously evolving. You must adapt and learn new skills. Identify required skills in your industry of interest, such as IT, solar panel installation, or the creative gig economy, and find ways to acquire them, be it through formal education, online certifications, training programmes or internships.


2. Related work experience can replace formal qualifications. Don’t underestimate the value of practical work experience. This can provide a good alternative to formal qualifications. Often, two years’ experience in a relevant field is considered as valuable as a formal qualification.


3. Cultivate a strong work ethic. There is simply no substitute for having a strong work ethic. Things like being punctual, reliable, and showing an interest in ongoing skills development can stand you in good stead to position yourself as an active contributor to your company.


4. Network and seek growth opportunities. Networking can open many doors in your career journey. Actively engage in industry events, join professional associations, and build connections in your field. This can lead to job referrals, mentorship opportunities, and may accelerate your career growth.


5. Get a side hustle or start your own business. South Africa is known for its culture of entrepreneurship. This can be a viable option to become economically active, especially in the township economy. Consider starting a micro-business; it could be your stepping stone into the mainstream economy.


6. Maintain good mental fitness. Mental fitness is vital in your job search journey and handling unemployment. YES’s new initiative, YES Mindful Matters, is aimed at providing active YES Youth with access to valuable online support services delivered by registered counsellors. Your mental wellbeing is important: don’t neglect it.


A bright future


Investing in the youth of South Africa through programmes like YES is not only imperative, but is an opportunity. When young people are equipped to contribute to and shape our economy, the employment opportunities will follow.


While the path to entrepreneurship and youth employment can be challenging, success stories of YES alumni like Nqoko, Nomtyala and others illustrate that with resilience, creativity, and the right support, one can thrive even in the face of adversity.


As a South African business, whether you’re seeking to improve your B-BBEE levels or not, consider saying YES to youth employment and becoming part of this powerful movement. Visit the YES website to find out more: https://www.yes4youth.co.za/4-business.


Together, we can empower the next generation of game-changers and reshape the future of the country’s economy.


#SayYES to a future that works. Our youth deserve no less.


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



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