Jobs and the young – Three lives, a million dreams

2012-07-14 10:49

One organisation finding jobs for first-timers is proving that the term ‘the unemployable generation’ a misnomer. Using a bridging programme with guaranteed placements for good candidates, it prevents young people from ‘falling through the cracks’, writes Nicola Galombik

Most black South African families will know someone who is unemployed.

Two out of every three young South Africans aged between 15 and 24 do not have permanent work and a decent salary.

For the country’s economic size this is an unusually large number and it creates hopelessness for young people and their families. However, there is a new initiative that is changing lives.

The Harambee youth employment accelerator has found it is possible to transform this “unemployable generation” rather quickly into valuable entry-level employees if you get the mix of recruitment, training and placement right.

For those who can get and keep a good job, the future can be very bright.

Research by the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) says there is an 85% chance that if a first-time worker is permanently employed for a full year, they are more likely to enjoy ongoing employment and better career opportunities into the future.

To date, 500 young people who previously lived off the welfare of others have now joined the ranks of corporate South Africa and earn a regular, good salary.

It is a business initiative that works with employers to match unemployed matriculants with no prior work experience with existing entry-level jobs where there is a high demand for labour.

Young people who make it through these programmes are guaranteed placement in full-time employment.

We have found that:

»South Africa is filled with talented young people;

»Schools are not preparing young people with the skills and qualities business needs;

»This schools-to-work gap can be bridged on a large scale;

»The risk of employing first-timers can be managed in a partnership between businesses and Harambee;

»Young unemployed people are willing to work and must be carefully selected to match job profiles;

»Young people, when given an opportunity, do work hard to create success;

»Meaningful employment is life-changing for families, not just individuals; and

»This is a win-win for business and young people – it’s not charity but a new way to do business.

South Africa is filled with talented young people, and many of them don’t even know what their capabilities are.

Those who do often don’t know what to do with them or don’t have the means to access work opportunities.

But if channelled and nurtured appropriately, these young people represent a new pool of talent for employers.

And it’s clear from personal accounts that a good job and regular income goes a long way to changing the social situation of an entire family.

Despite the need for employers to constantly recruit and retain entry-level employees, there is a resistance to bringing in first-timers and a difficulty in retaining and progressing them.

This and the cost of redressing educational and psychosocial challenges are onerous for employers to take on.

So what does it take to tackle and solve the problem? It all starts with sourcing and selecting the right candidates for specific jobs.

Everyone wants a job, but Harambee matches young people to pre-contracted employment by finding those with the right attitudes and attributes to match specific roles in the business in which they will ultimately work.

It’s not a simple process.
Harambee adopts a “feet on the street” approach to finding candidates with potential and uses an SMS-based application method.

This allows it to attract young people who don’t have a CV, access to a computer or who can’t present themselves for an interview.

Because school results are a poor indicator of potential, rigorous assessments are needed to match young people to potential jobs and to measure their functional competence and personal readiness.

When it comes to professionally assessing these individuals, some basic rules apply: they need to be fed, because most arrive on an empty stomach and can’t function at optimal capacity.

Since offering peanut butter sandwiches and bananas pre-assessment, results have increased significantly.

Also, they shouldn’t be assessed on grant payment days or towards the end of the month because they’re either queuing or have no money left for transport – assessments held on these days saw at least a 20% no-show rate – it’s a real conundrum for someone who really wants a job.

Matching the candidates to the requirements of potential employers is essential. Occupational interest is a must, but passion for and commitment to a specific job profile is imperative.

For example, it takes a certain person to succeed as a call-centre agent, and a different one to succeed as a data capturer or restaurant team leader.

Harambee is successful because candidates match the job and are likely to perform and stick to it.

It is a fit-for-purpose bridging programme that closes the skills and behavioural gaps that have precluded young people from getting work in the past.

Intensive work-readiness programmes – ranging between one and three months in length – have proven highly successful in rapidly improving functional literacy, communication and numeracy skills. The process also instils discipline and work ethics quickly.

By adopting a progressive business attitude and managing their entry-level employees with a more developmental approach, they are creating an environment for sustained employment, improved business performance and growth.

A note from the editor

I am at once vexed by the youth unemployment crisis and fascinated by examples of employment and empowerment that work.

There can be no greater gift to the next generation than to ensure they have a good education and work.

It is the only way to cauterise the apartheid that continues to bedevil our dear land. Privilege is intergenerational, and so is oppression.

On these pages you will see that the solutions to youth unemployment are both simple and deeply complex.

Harambee, the project we write about today, has learnt that, for example, if you give young people a banana and a peanut butter sandwich at an interview they will perform better because many of our compatriots arrive at interviews with rumbling bellies.

Other solutions are going to take another generation to achieve: the education system at both school and tertiary levels are largely still in casualty and about to moved to regular wards. Healed they are not.

But here’s an example that works.

In the months ahead we will do more, because the solution lies in the real world, not in the political world where our leaders exist to fight about whether a grant is better than a subsidy is better than a two-tier labour is better than no labour market at all.

Tell me about what works. You have a space here. – Ferial Haffajee

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