"I was unemployed so I started a company that helps people find their first jobs"

Whitney Jacobs, founder of Employ ME South Africa. Credit: Supplied
Whitney Jacobs, founder of Employ ME South Africa. Credit: Supplied

When my company went through a retrenchment in 2016, I found myself unemployed for three months. 

It was enormously frustrating for me because I’m someone that equates my value to what I'm doing. I was so proactive in seeking and applying for jobs, but it became increasingly difficult to obtain anything. I asked God to help me find a job and He told me to help other people, so I listened and started the platform that I had been brainstorming for months.

Think about it – it was difficult for me – someone who has resources, so I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for those who have very little to no resources.

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Unemployment among youth in South Africa

Many people don't realise this, but the youth unemployment rate in South Africa is in a national crisis. During those three months of being unemployed, I realised there’s a huge issue with trying to find employment. And I realised that it's not only about the costs involved but it’s that people don’t get feedback from job recruiters. 

I spent a lot of time reflecting on the job-seeking process and felt that there is a frustration involved with getting to the platforms that advertise job posts, so after a couple of months I came up with EmployME South Africa to make this entire process easier.

Think about it –  it was difficult for me – someone who has resources, so I couldn’t imagine what it must be like for those who have very little to no resources. And another big dilemma is that many job seekers, including the unemployed youth, don't have the funds to attend interviews with employers or don't have access to the labour market and opportunities.

Most of the interviews take place in economic hubs, so employers often don’t consider the fact that interview candidates have to fork out travelling costs since thousands of our black youth are living outside of these.

If you look at most of these jobs in the labour market and even bursaries that the government creates for young people, the truth is that majority of our youth don’t have access to the. And I've found that they aren't even aware of them. 

EmployME South Africa

I had been walking around with a concept to create a site that makes the job-seeking process easier for people for so many months, and after speaking to people I discovered that no one really understood or believed in what I was talking about.

I had consistent dedication to this concept though, and eventually managed to have EmployME South Africa created in December 2016.

EmployME South Africa is essentially an online platform that simplifies the recruitment process, and what I also wanted with this was a nifty, time-saving way to connect job seekers with potential employers, so along with loading your qualifications on the site, we've also included a skilful tool of uploading a video CV.

It's available to people of all ages, but is specifically targeted at the youth. There's also a script we've tried to develop for the video CV to keep it succinct and relevant but it’s still in a development phase.

However, the video CV is not 100% compulsory but it’s an innovation. If we made it compulsory, it would be largely challenging because there’s a huge youth component in our country that does not have access to smartphones and data to load their videos. But we do have roadshows across the countries where we assist them to create their profiles.

So far we have over 100 000 people that are registered on the site, and since our inception we've managed to create just over 1 000 jobs for our South African youth. Through our roadshows we've reached more than 12 000 unemployed youth.

I can't simply sit back and depend on the site to decrease the level of unemployment, which is why we have roadshows.

The importance of ICT and Manufacturing

The majority of the jobs advertised on EmployME South Africa are within the information and communications technology (ICT) and manufacturing sectors. We want the youth to be involved in these fields because I believe it leads to longer employment in the labour market.

So we create those opportunities with our roadshows, for example. We’ve gone into partnership with Bus Mark who supply buses and related services and products to Southern Africa and beyond and provided 250 jobs, and consistently train the youth in ICT. I can't simply sit back and depend on the site to decrease the level of unemployment, which is why we have roadshows.

To date, we've hosted around ten roadshows in Gauteng and we’re having the next one in Sedibeng in April 2018, so it’s something that's constantly on our agenda. Sadly, because of the costs involved in the roadshows we can’t execute it across the country right now, but we're aiming to get to 103 sites across the country this year. If that happens, we'll have targeted a big majority of the youth in SA.

I know it sounds basic, but you’ll find the youth we’re talking to have no idea...

And through the roadshows we've discovered that hundreds of young adults between the ages of 18–35 have never applied for a job in their entire lives. They don't have and understand the importance of having CV's, so we go out to them and assist them with getting their profiles onto the site.

We also offer them career guidance and have a specific programme which includes a focus group. We look at what the current status of employment is in that region, and we try to target the employers there to assist the youth of that roadshow.

The career guidance we covers creating CV's, passing on knowledge about interview skills and also how often and where they should apply for jobs.

I know it sounds basic, but you’ll find the youth we’re talking to have no idea and they don’t realise they should be applying every single day. And they don’t know about the free programmes created by the government like bursaries. They just don’t have that information.

...employment shouldn’t be the sole answer to the current crisis at hand.

My degree and experience within the HR field has also helped me to share my insights and taught me the importance of having empathy and being patient with the people I meet.

I want people and businesses to realise that you can't change unemployment if you don’t tackle skills, and that's why skill-building has been very instrumental in this initiative. 

The entire process of putting this idea into a reality was a struggle but I persevered in the end. It took about a year of running up and down and pleading for assistance, not just from government but from the private sector as well.

You’ll find when you have initiatives launched it’s very one-sided or secluded. The major problem is access to provide solutions for the youth for them to access opportunities. Thankfully, the first phase of the programme was funded by Multichoice.

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So how does one become employable and land that first job?

It’s really twofold. We need to create more businesses and an environment that is able to support these businesses. 

If you think of the unemployment rate at the moment you’d realise that we don’t have the capacity to even absorb the current youth. There are young people looking for work every single day, so employment shouldn’t be the sole answer to the current crisis at hand.

I want to put in a call of action to the government and to the private sector to support initiatives such as EmployME South Africa.

In the latest SONA report the government announced several initiatives for small businesses for the country's youth, but no one has access to this. I don’t even have access to it, so imagine how challenging it is for someone else who isn't aware of the process involved; someone that has to take five taxis to get to a place to even get the ball rolling. 

Right now there’s a chance for everyone to get involved. The private sector and government have already but it's up to everyone to assist as well.

The government has launched the YES initiative this year, but I would also like for the youth that EmployMe South Africa targets to be introduced and become involved in this. Companies should also do their bit by upskilling in the correct skills so we have more competent potential employees in the labour market.

Whitney was hand-picked among a group of just 20 inspiring young social entrepreneurs by the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy to attend their in-house training course, and who are now being assisted over an 18-month period with a one-on-one mentorship programme to give their social entrepreneurship projects the wings they need to fly.

WATCH: Meet the 2017 Red Bull Amaphiko SE's | Whitney

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