How to get SA’s unemployed youth into jobs

The Youth Employment Service (YES) is the manifestation of a groundswell of goodwill from the business community to change the direction of South Africa’s future. Announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa in March, it’s anticipated that the programme will generate more than 300 000 work experiences annually for South African youth over the next three years. 

Over 6m young people are unemployed and there is a desperate need for jobs, but considering that more than half of those trying to enter the workforce each year do not have a matric, there is also a desperate need for vocational training and skills development.   

The idea behind YES is simple: incentivise corporates and small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs) to create one-year employment opportunities for unemployed black youth and then match willing, unemployed young people with those opportunities. We know that the longer a person is unemployed, the less likely they are to enter the workforce, so creating opportunities for school-leavers is essential. For those who have never had a job and are not “plugged into” the formal economy, the chances of breaking into the workforce are minuscule. This is where the YES programme steps in. 

We’ve always been committed to the responsibility of business in driving SA’s inclusive economic growth, but this can only be done through a bona fide collaboration between business and government.

And there is still work to be done on the YES programme.

To participate in YES, companies must comply with basic conditions of employment, have employment contracts in place and ensure that they offer a “quality work experience”. But to benefit from the YES programme through improved B-BBEEE ratings, companies must first meet the sub-minimums of all B-BBEEE elements, including ownership, skills development, and enterprise and supplier development. 

While these are all important requirements for corporates, they are exactly the sort of compliance and regulatory obstacles that hinder and discourage the creation and inclusion of small businesses into the formal economy. Yet it’s these small- and medium-sized businesses that hold the real potential for job creation in SA.

If government really wants YES to succeed, it must create additional and meaningful incentives to get businesses – both large and small – to buy into the programme, potentially allowing preferential bidder status for government tenders, or a subsidy or tax break for companies earning under a certain threshold. More importantly, they must reduce red tape to make it easier for SMMEs to participate.

Once these young people have an opportunity to work, adequate plans must enable them to stay employed both during their internships and beyond. When announcing the YES initiative, Ramaphosa highlighted the “great distances” between where most young people live and work as one of their many challenges. Without an income, the transport costs to attend interviews or commute to work during their first month of employment are only some of the significant barriers to overcome. 

Youth work-placement specialist Harambee found that another major obstacle to young people staying in employment was that expectations of what a job involves often don’t meet the reality. This is particularly true in the hospitality industry: the hours are long and employees are mostly on their feet, interacting with other people. Without sufficient work-readiness training, it’s usually only after several months on a job that a candidate realises they’re not suited to the job and drops out of the labour market. 

Harambee also discovered a close link between job retention and workplace behaviour, and that personality traits like discipline, punctuality and enthusiasm are needed for managers to train on the job. By looking at a youngster’s learning potential and behavioural attributes, and matching them to an employer partner, Harambee has an extremely high level of success. Even small behaviour changes like ensuring that candidates are prepared to get up early, dress appropriately, and ask questions if they don’t understand, plus organising transport, make a huge difference to their and their employer’s satisfaction levels. 

Although YES is being led and supported by the private sector, businesses need more than just goodwill to encourage their employment of young people and providing an opportunity to enter the workforce for the first time. The department of trade and industry and others involved in the programme must tackle the proposed amendments to the B-BBEE codes aimed at incentivising the employment of black youth.  

If the YES programme is to succeed (and it must), participating jobseekers and employers need additional, focused government support, plus practical programmes to prepare – and retain – an aspirant 1m young people contributing to our economic growth. 

Adam Craker is the CEO of independent management consultancy IQbusiness.

This article originally appeared in the 24 May edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here, or sign up for our weekly newsletter here.  

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