Sandile Ntuli hails from Jokweni, near Nkandla. His elders were initially disapproving of his plans to study marine biology, but this turned to pride as he became the first in his family to complete an undergraduate degree, followed by honours. Recently, he submitted his MSc thesis, “Thermal Adaptation of Corals to an Intertidal Habitat”. He plans to study for his doctorate and will focus on whales.
Until four months ago Sandile had never had a job, aside from tutoring at university, and had no idea where to look – outside of the research networks. Then he was appointed as an intern at Wild Ocean, an NGO that focuses on the health of SA’s oceans, where he trains future whale spotting guides.
The job is temporary, a 12-month programme that offers no guarantees. What it will provide him, however, is a CV, a letter of recommendation, and a year’s worth of vital work experience.
It also provides him with something less tangible – an understanding of how “the world of work” actually works. With few in his family to mentor him, the experience has taught him how to manage his time, how to manage a group of people and that no job is “too small or too big”. He is also learning how to better sell himself, he says, which is a useful skill for a job-seeker.
Lindiwe Shozi stayed at home with her retired father for a full year after being awarded a diploma in public management from the TET college in her area. She is now a marketing intern, working for Wild Ocean in Durban. “I posted my CV to dozens of companies with no response from any of them.” She would do it differently now, she says.
Ntuli and Shozi are employed through Youth Employment Service (YES), a business-driven initiative with government and labour that aims to build economic pathways for black youth and reduce unemployment. Their salaries are paid by Nedbank, which is one of 281 firms that supports YES.
Nedbank is providing work experiences to 3,340 young people, 300 of them directly with the financial services group and the remainder through social partners. One partner is WildTrust, a not for profit that works with about 60 communities across SA to create opportunities for sustainable living while restoring and conserving the environment around the communities.
YES is still in its infancy, but already it co-ordinates the highest impact employment programme outside of government, with 13,504 youth employed out of a total 18,000 jobs committed so far in 2019.
Not everyone has a tertiary qualification like Ntuli and Shozi. Some, like Sibongiseni Diedricks, have a Grade 10. Diedricks is now an intern at the WildLands waste recycling plant in Howick and has helped to build a pilot plant that converts plastic waste to diesel and petrol.
“People tend to think that South Africa’s youth are unemployable,” says YES CEO Dr Tashmia Ismail-Saville. “These are people with a huge potential to bring energy and fresh thinking into business, but who are structurally locked out of the economy.”
Other YES workers like Vuyani Hendry, who sold three cars in his first month with VW in Paarl, have matric, but no work experience.
“He did not wait in the dealership for customers,” says Ismail-Saville. “Instead he marketed directly to people at community events. And then he walked clients through the credit vetting process on the weekend – recognising that people can’t do it during the week. He had the energy to think about doing things differently.”
YES helps companies select suitable interns using a job-matching platform called Knack. Decisions are based on a wider array of skills than simply whether or not an individual has matric. At the same time, the platform’s personalised feedback gives individual youths awareness of their innate skills and abilities.
“This awareness is vital for personal growth, particularly for youth who may venture into start-ups and entrepreneurship,” Ismail-Saville says.
Interns are provided with a smartphone. “Just connecting people into a digital network can result in GDP growth per person of between 1.2% and 1.5%. That is massive,” she says.
More than that, on each phone is an app (data is free), which provides interns with life skills and basic business skills in a modular format.
“Most youth don’t have mentors who work. So the things we take for granted – understanding work expectations, being on time, how to manage scary bosses – they have little insight into.”
Where possible, YES is attempting to place the interns in or near their communities, with positive results. Investec has supported 1,250 interns in the Mpumalanga tourism region, many of whom were absorbed into local employment opportunities once their work experience was completed.
Raymond Joseph, who runs the Nelson Mandela Capture Site outside Howick in KZN on behalf of the uMngeni Municipality, snapped up the offer of 28 interns, who are being trained as tourist guides, landscapers, maintenance crew and as cooks at the small restaurant on the site.
“I jumped at it. We are opening the new museum and have plans to establish an amphitheatre, theatre, indigenous garden and arts and crafts centre, but we had a team of four people,” he said.
And at the Aurum Institute healthcare organisation, YES youth Casius Mathebula worked to counsel 300 people in his community to be tested for HIV and got 90 people on to antiretrovirals.
“He was able to add enormous value in his community. When this happens, the multiplier is enormous, and he is now a permanent staff member of Aurum,” says Ismail-Saville.
While R750-million will be invested in communities through YES salaries with the initial 18,000 commitments, Ismail-Saville recognises that expecting business to continue to fund and provide work experiences in the longer term is not a sustainable solution to SA’s unemployment problem. Thus, YES is also investing in small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) development in communities.
“Township economies are developing organically, but to gain momentum and become real employers they need access to capital, to First World technology and the value chains that help create efficiencies.”
With support from the likes of the Development Bank, Agri SA, Transnet and corporate partners like Nedbank, Investec, Sanlam and Netcare, plans for YES hubs across several provinces are being developed.
The most advanced, the Kago Hub in Tembisa, includes an aquaculture plant that farms tilapia fish, an organic lettuce farm that sells lettuce to the community as well as to the Local Grill chain and Food Lover’s Group, a live cooking facility that uses the lettuce and the fish, teaches nutrition and hospitality skills, and a computer lab that provides coding, programming, app development and basic digital skills.
The Development Bank is bringing micro solar-powered grids to townships and ensuring these are managed locally.
“Technology is automating the First World and causing job losses, shutting out local people and leaving local communities further and further behind,” says Ismail-Saville. “But at the same time as this technology is [cutting out middle-men] in the first economy, it can be used to provide opportunities and access in the third economy.”
Longer-term plans for the hubs include scaling a manufacturing plant that produces not just the cheapest sanitary pads available, but ones that are biodegradable; a canning plant (for the fish), a larger sit down and training restaurant and an early childhood development centre.
In less than two years this initiative has learnt many lessons – learning to unravel the spaghetti bowl that is title deeds in townships like Alexandria is just one – but it is gaining momentum and making a small difference where it counts. 18,000 jobs is no small feat in this economy. BM
"Count your age by friends, not years. Count your life by smiles, not tears." ~ John Lennon
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