"Please give me a moment, I just need to find a quiet spot," Lebo Nke, an executive at Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator began her interview with Fin24 in the bustling offices in central Johannesburg where hundreds of young people on any given day are polishing their CV’s, and learning interview skills.
"Harambee" is a Kiswahili word meaning "we win when we all pull together." The organisation was established in 2011 by business and government to tackle the youth unemployment problem in South Africa. Early adopters include companies like Hollard and Nandos, who saw an opportunity to get excluded and unemployed youth into their entry-level jobs.
Nke, who heads up partnerships and advocacy efforts at Harambee, says there are many young people who have never been exposed to anyone with a formal job. "Young people don’t know enough about the world of work, it’s like a foreign place," Nke said.
The unemployment stats, quarter after quarter, confirm the dire situation of unemployed young people. The most recent Statistics SA report for the last quarter of 2018 showed a moderate drop in the jobless rate, while the percentage of youth (15-34) not in employment, education or training rose to 38.9%, with the highest affected category being young black females.
Harambee’s free service targets young people under the age of 35, from low-income households, and while there are a few university graduates, many have not completed their degrees for financial reasons.
Harambee has provided 95 000 jobs and work experiences through 500 "employer partners" which include some of SA’s largest corporates, such as Woolworths, Tongaat Hullet and FNB.
Nke tells the story of an Uber driver from Limpopo who underwent work seeker support training at Harambee’s offices and said he learned how to "package himself" and look people in the eye, a cultural taboo where he was from, but a necessity in the service industry.
She also emphasises the need to help young people talk about the experience they do have, even if it is not a formal job. For example, it is important for young people to see their volunteering as an example of experience in learning skills for work, Nke said. "They’ve got tons of experience in life, they just don’t know what they’re good at and how to tell this to employers," Nke commented.
Transport is one of the biggest barriers facing young people looking for employment, in a country still grappling to overcome apartheid spatial planning.
According to Harambee’s research, if people have to take more than one taxi to work for an entry-level job, their chances of staying in the job are greatly reduced because it begins to cost too much of their salary.
This is one of the policy areas the non-profit is involved in, Nke says, and the country needs to think about providing unemployed youth with a package of support, for example transport and data subsidies.
Nke previously worked as a consultant in corporates such as Accenture, Ernst & Young and De Beers. She counts the volunteering she did while studying economics at Wits University as one of the reasons she was immediately able to find a job after graduating.