Building bridges to better lives

2015-09-17 06:00

Mpho Mpongo

Mpho Mpongo

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A call centre in Diep River isn’t the solution to South Africa’s massive youth unemployment problem, but through an innovative partnership it has given over 400 first-time job seekers valuable work experience and improved their lives.

Rashida Sader, head of HR at Direct Axis, explains that what drives the initiative isn’t motivated by social investment or charity, but business imperatives.

“Like most good ideas, in essence it’s quite simple. Our call centre is the engine-room of our business. As the business grew we had to expand the call centre. The challenge was to find the right people quickly.”

This led to Direct Axis teaming up with Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator.

Harambee bridges the gap for the thousands of learners who matriculate and graduate each year, but aren’t ready for the workplace.

It’s a free service, which assesses applicants for potential, teaches them about employer’s minimum expectations, such as punctuality and presentation and then bridges the skills gap for specific careers by providing work readiness skills.

“This is where the partnership has worked so effectively,” explains Rashida.

“In a financial services call centre, we require a particular skill set, including good numeracy and literacy skills and financial knowledge.

Harambee ensures the candidates meet these basic requirements.”

As the partnership has developed, so the training has evolved based on Direct Axis’ feedback.

“When we took on the first Harambee graduates, we put them on a separate, more intensive internal induction and training course to other recruits.

This is no longer the case. Now all new recruits undergo the same Direct Axis training, which is testament to how well Harambee has tailored its programme to meet our needs.

“It’s a shining example of successful co-operation between business and civil society,” says Rashida.

The enhanced training has had other benefits, increasing the retention of the Harambee recruits and improving their career prospects.

Mpho Mpongo, from Gugulethu, who started as a call centre agent has gone on to become a team leader.

It has also wider social benefits. Besides restoring the recruits’ hope and self-confidence, many are also the sole breadwinners in their families and their success has improved the entire household’s circumstances.

Direct Axis employs some 1 500 people at its Diep River campus.

When Mpongo matriculated in 2007 at the age of 16 he had aspirations of becoming a sound engineer. After school he attended different schools and colleges, studying various courses until, in 2012, he felt he needed to settle down and get a job.

He heard about Harambee from a friend and successfully applied. He felt the programme not only gave him a better perspective about starting out on a career, but also prepared him to get a job.

After two months at Harambee he was granted an interview at Direct Axis and got a job as a call centre agent. He has since been promoted to become a team leader.

“This job has meant a lot to me. Not only am I responsible and able to make my own way in life, but I’ve also earned self-respect as well as the respect of my peers and community. Being able to be my own person has made a huge difference and I’m now able to give back to my mom, who sacrificed so much to raise me.”

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