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Sue Segar | 18 September 2023

A young woman, from a household where nobody has worked before, joins a programme as one of 20 black women trained to become commercial drone pilots. Soon she will be running her own drone business, servicing an ever-growing demand. A young man – identified as a talented youth – joins Nedbank as an intern. A year or so later, he is appointed full-time engaged in business analytics in the bank’s IT division. A young person from a Western Cape community known for gangsterism, is part of a group of 150 youths to be trained as a barista. His future looks bright.

All these youngsters are part of the fast-growing Youth Employment Services (YES) programme, a national business-led movement of South African companies, which, in collaboration with the government, aims to address South Africa’s biggest socio-economic crisis – unemployment.

117 851 young people placed in first job experience

The YES programme – the country’s biggest social impact programme for jobs that is fully funded by the private sector – is growing from strength to strength, said YES CEO Ravi Naidoo.

Naidoo said that, as of last month (August) a total of 117 851 young people had been placed in their first private sector job experience.

The programme is proving to be a “game changer” in South Africa where the low economic growth rate means that the unemployment trend is not reversing. More than 400 000 job-seekers come into the market annually, but, over the past ten years, only about 150 000 jobs have been created each year.

The YES programme, an initiative of CEOs from organisations countrywide, kicked off, operationally, in 2018. The programme formally got going in 2019, but had to virtually shut down during COVID-19.

“Since COVID, the programme has rocketed. Most of these 117 000 jobs have come in during the last two years. Last year the number increased by about 30 percent in terms of the number of people joining the programme.

“A lot of companies are joining now: we have 1 549 companies sponsoring these interns,” Naidoo said.

The programme is open to talented black South African youth between 18 and 35 years old, with a matric qualification, and who are currently unemployed. About 61 percent of YES participants are from social grant-recipient households..

12 month internship

The learners sign a 12-month contract with businesses to gain experience in the workplace. During the programme, they are equipped with practical knowledge and skills in future-facing sectors, so as to encourage entrepreneurship and improve their chances of finding employment. It is also an opportunity for them to demonstrate their abilities, embrace a work ethic, and prove their worth. They receive a stipend to cover basic expenses.

“Typically, these youths come from very disadvantaged backgrounds. We give them their first work experience … in jobs and opportunities that can stick in the economy. The youth will, hopefully, go on to develop a career, become absorbed into a private sector job … or start their own business and become the employers of the future. We give them the skills, work experience, and social networks needed to help them become change makers who contribute to the country’s economic prosperity.”

“We want as many of these people as possible from these backgrounds to get these opportunities they otherwise would never get because that’s how you build a broader economic base. Many of these youths will continue to interact with their old communities, and to have an impact there.

“What we need are jobs and initiatives that have a multiplier effect down the line. If South Africa is to succeed over the next 10 years, we need to get as many of our talented youths as possible into meaningful roles in the economy,” Naidoo said.

Renewables and tourism present many opportunities

The YES initiative is now part of the sector plan for the renewables sector plan for SA, where there is a dearth of skills. “We want to get many more youths to learn the technical skills to build capacity in that industry.”

He added that the programme is currently also partnering with the Western Cape government. “The premier announced a partnership with YES in May, during the state of the province address. We are already putting people into programmes in the Cape.”

Naidoo commended the corporate sector for buying into the YES programme, adding there are a number of benefits to do so, in terms of BEE and other benefits. “We find that BEE level 1 companies still work with us because they can use our programme for their sustainability reports.”

Asked about future plans, Naidoo said they hope to get more companies to join the YES programme.

“We had our best month ever in June, when 5 298 youths were sponsored. In terms of our collaboration with the Western Cape government, we intend to assess the growth opportunities in the province and then channel some of the youths into these growing sectors. In the Cape, a key sector we are interested in is Tourism. We currently have a number of young people working in that sector already. We also plan to place more youths into renewables and solar PV-type work because there are huge opportunities, countrywide, in that sector. There is a huge opportunity for us to grow our capacity as a country while we fix loadshedding … and, in the process to become the experts in the world, because there is going to be loadshedding all over the world – they just don’t know it yet!”

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


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