Slotting into the job industry

2012-09-25 00:00

“IF you are already 25 and you’ve never had a job, the odds are you will never be employed,” says Dave Lunderstedt, executive director of School Leaver Opportunity Training, an organisation better known by its acronym Slot and bent on helping school leavers beat the odds, providing a bridge between school and employment.

To realise that aim, Slot offers a variety of courses, including life skills, and computer and business skills. Slot also offers a Gap Year Project aimed at orphaned school leavers from established orphanages in the city, a 10-month course that prepares them for the future. They also involve youth in community service programmes. But it is the Life Skills Training course that provides the foundation on which all Slot’s programmes are built.

“We first try to give them some hope,” says Lunderstedt. “Give them self-respect, make them realise that they have value, they have worth. But we also get across the idea that the world doesn’t owe them a living. We are lighting a flame in them and giving them hope.”

The month-long life skills course is open to anyone from the age of 18 to 35, says Lunderstedt. “We don’t turn down any student — even if he or she doesn’t have matric.”

Given the emphasis on the course, it seemed like a good idea to go along and sample a day’s session. The one headed “African Renaissance” looked the most appealing and when the day came, I thought I would be up for an aspirational piece of revisionist history that reasserted Africa’s place in world history and extolled its peoples along with their achievements. I should have factored in the course heading; “Life Skills”.

On a Wednesday morning, I found myself sitting with over 30 people — who I suppose you would label “youth” — and after an ice-breaker exercise, we all settled down to the session run by Slot facilitator Jabu Mokoena. “African renaissance — we’ve all heard leaders and politicians using this phrase,” she said, quickly making it clear she was more interested in unpacking what might lie behind the phrase, rather than the propaganda.

But this was no ordinary lesson; the emphasis was on interaction and Mokoena asked for definitions from the floor. The word “renaissance” was speedily dealt with — “rebirth, renewal” — but then came the word “African”. “What is an African? What defines an African?” Mokoena asked, and thus opened up a free-ranging discussion.

Answers ranged from “someone born in Africa or whose parents are from Africa”. But objections came quick and fast. What if South African parents had a child in the U.S.? What was the child? Passports and identity documents came into play. Someone suggested the answer might lie in genes. Take those genes and think U.S. president Barack Obama. His father was Kenyan and he’s classified as an African-American. “Yet he calls himself an American. He’s never referred to himself as an African.”

Maybe if you believed in the ancestors you were African. But what if you were Christian? Then you can be an African, but not completely African. Eventually, skin colour came into the debate. If you are not black you are not an African. An African is a black person. But what about Egyptians and Algerians and Libyans? And what about the other white person sitting in on the session who was born here and thought of herself as an African?

As the debate moved in ever more complex, contradictory (occasionally absurd) circles, someone suggested it might be something to do with values — that there were specific African values.

A list got drawn up on a flip chart: respect, humanity, love, kindness, culture, creativity, hospitality, generosity, sharing, sympathy ...

Everyone was feeling good about the list. Then Mokoena added the word “xenophobia” to the board. “How does that fit with this list? Xenophobia? How does that fit if we are into ubuntu — people are people through other people. We have generosity and sharing and love — such a big word — but if that’s the case then why don’t we love foreigners?”

And so another debate played out. One with all the clichés: we lose jobs because of foreigners. They work for less and steal our jobs. They steal our girlfriends. Mokoena offered another perspective. “We’ve got selfish. In the time of apartheid, we were hiding in their homes in their countries. Now they have come here and we send them away.”

Mokoena then rolled back a sheet on the flip chart carrying a set of sobering statistics that moved the debate to another level. Statistics related to the incidence of HIV/Aids, education and unemployment in South Africa and on the African continent. The statistical equivalent of a cold shower. “So where is the African Renaissance in all this?” she asked. “What are these statistics telling us? Where is South Africa going?”

“We must stop playing the blame game. We’ve all done it. We’ve blamed our parents, we’ve blamed the government, we’ve blamed other people. You have to make a choice. What defines you? What drives you? If I don’t know who I am, how do I know where to go?

“If we are the future, South Africa has no future. If we want an African Renaissance, we have to rediscover the values we have lost. If we are rebuilding African values, we need to embody them. It’s up to us, individually.”

The questions posed earlier had no clear answers. According to Slot facilitator Kerry Donkin: “We offer a mind-shift, an attitude adjustment. One that helps these young people deal better with the challenging situation they find themselves in.”

Other sessions on offer during the course include goal-setting, self-esteem, entrepreneurship, finance, relationships and character.

One session is on volunteerism. “This is intended to introduce the idea of volunteerism,” says Lunderstedt. “If you offer your services and skills unpaid — on board that raises your chances of a job exponentially. Like it says on our vehicles: ‘It’s about opportunity’.”

Sometimes opportunity just comes knocking. Franchise owner Jeanette Malan, who is opening a new branch of Doregos in Pietermaritzburg next month, was looking for staff. “There was a talk at Rotary about Slot and someone from Rotary told me about it, so I contacted them.”

Malan was so struck by what she encountered that she has taken on 11 Slot graduates. “They will staff the shop, from management, to cashier, to back staff. I was really impressed. Slot is doing a wonderful job.”


• Check the Slot website:


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