Disclaimer: This is a very positive story about President Ramaphosa’s YES initiative – the Youth Employment Services programme aimed at getting more young people employed in South Africa – but first, we need to lay the groundwork for why it’s so important.
As such, the start of the story is a little depressing as it outlines South Africa’s currently-dismal unemployment situation, but keep reading, we promise there’s a happy ending.
Ask any economist, or read the economic news from any of your favourite outlets, and you’ll inevitably come across mention of the unemployment situation in South Africa.
While the specific figures may vary, the overwhelming sentiment is that it is, in a word, dismal.
And it’s not improving. According to the website TradingEconomics.com, the first quarter of 2019 saw the country’s unemployment figures rise from 27.1% to 27.6% overall, adding 62 000 people to the ranks of South Africans of working age without jobs.
The group of people hardest-hit by this dire situation is the youth, which TradingEconomics.com says has an unemployment rate of a whopping 55.2%, up from 54.7% in Q4 of last year.
Turning the ship
In his February 2019 State of the Nation Address, President Ramaphosa committed to taking a different direction in relation to issues faced by the youth and acknowledged that “…Our young people need to be given a real head start in the world of work. They should not face barriers and hindrances as they seek to find work.” This direction includes “proper” economic stimulus and job creation through various initiatives.
As the youth unemployment rate is so high, it makes sense for the government to focus there, and that’s exactly what is happening: under Ramaphosa, an initiative called the Youth Employment Service (YES) kicked off about a year ago.
YES aims to help young people get jobs through closer co-operation between government and the private sector.
Saying YES! to Youth Empowerment Services
The Tarsus Technology Group was one of the first South African companies to opt into President Ramaphosa’s YES initiative. In January, the company took in a group of qualified and non-qualified youth and placed them in various departments across the business.
TTG CEO Miles Crisp was at a recent event held to congratulate the youth, and to talk about the lessons that the company has learnt along this journey.
“We’ve been on a journey this past year to understand what it takes to bring youth and trainees into our organisation”, Crisp said.
“Other industries are structured as learning organisations with no real effort; it’s baked into their very DNA. Accounting and law firms, as an example, require students to complete their “articles of clerkship” at a real-world law/accounting firm as a part of the qualification process.”
The IT industry does not operate that way, Crisp notes.
“At Tarsus, we’ve had a functional and transactional culture where you were only here to get the job done. We did not have a refined process in place. In the discovery phase of our journey over the past year, we asked ourselves tough questions such as why we do what we do, and what we need to do in order to make the necessary shifts towards more inclusive skills development programme.
“Today, our aim is to drive a shift in culture that will see us becoming more of a learning organisation, and we will be training our managers on how to develop the youth so that the conversation is not job driven, it’s career driven,” he says.
A brilliant initiative
Crisp went on to talk about the South African economy, praising President Ramaphosa’s YES initiative as a positive move towards solving the crisis that is youth unemployment.
“The YES programme is brilliant! It makes it so much easier for us to do business and allows government and business to work together for the benefit of the whole country!
“Our responsibility is to embrace this programme and make it work. All it costs us is a change of heart around our purpose as an organisation and how we can make a difference in the country”, he says.
To the YES youth present, he added “From us as leaders of Tarsus, it’s wonderful to have you here in the midst of this change of culture. We are passionate about changing it, about becoming MORE relevant in this country, and relevant in your lives.
“Life is a tightrope. It’s difficult to get on properly with all the challenges that we face. But you’re on it right now, you are inside Tarsus and you have relationships here. Use them, be the best you can be, and just shine!” Crisp added.
The group of youth then had a chance to talk about their experiences for a bit.
First up was Lindokuhle Mngomezulu, who told the group all about her own journey at Tarsus and how it’s been “…a hell of a ride!”
She is part of the Sales team, where she was welcomed warmly even though she was quite nervous about being there. She told of how she had to adapt to working situations which she’d never had to do before, but also that her supervisors were so welcoming and patient with her.
Lindokuhle learned every day, making some mistakes along the way but nobody judged her negatively for it. Some of the skills she learned included time management, clear communications, and how to adapt to different cultures. She said how she came to appreciate that we’re all different people, and how all it takes for everyone to get along is a little respect.
She gave huge thanks to Tarsus for the opportunity and quoted Calvin Coolidge: “All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”
Lindokuhle ended off by saying “We’ve all worked so hard to be here, we are the ones who were chosen to be here. They [Tarsus] see(s) something in us, I want us to keep growing and learning, be better people, keep on learning and making ourselves better. This is not where it ends, it is the beginning. It is the tightrope and we are there!”
Several other youth came forward to share their experiences, and they all shared similar sentiments: that life at Tarsus was a huge but massively rewarding responsibility, for which they are grateful, with the promise of making the most of the experience.
Lastly, Itumeleng Lentsoane, the YES representative said a few words, her voice shaking with excitement as she was feeling “very emotional right now”.
“YES was established as a collaboration between business, government and the Department of Labour. Research has found that the biggest barrier to young people getting jobs is because they have not been employed before. But if you have a reference person on your CV, that makes you three times more likely to get employed.
“We at YES just want to de-risk you. These last 12 months were to show that you are capable and able and can do the job.
” The YES initiative is my first job as well; I’ve been there a year now and came almost straight out of university. I also had a few months of sitting unemployed as a youth until I got this opportunity; it’s been a hell of a ride for me, too!
“YES was launched last year, and we started to sign up companies in October. And like a start-up, we’re walking, crawling and learning at the same time! It’s also quite a high-pressure job because at the moment we have 17000 youth that we have placed into jobs, 231 companies that have signed up to be part of YES.
“And I just have to say, I am so excited to have the Tarsus Technology Group as a partner!
“My role at YES is assisting companies with the registration process so I am client facing, so being here today is so refreshing!
“There are always fires to be put out, so it’s easy to forget who we are actually doing this for and why. I am emotional today because I feel so fulfilled inside seeing your faces and feeling your energy and your excitement to be here; it makes me sleep better at night that I am the reason for your smiles and your energy!
“I see how you have all worked so hard to be here. When this started with our learnership programme last year, there were 220 of you, now it’s just down to this group. You have done so well so far; I hope you keep learning and doing your best.
“If Tarsus has given you a good experience, it means that next year you will have opened up opportunities for another 30 people.
Lentsoane ended with “There are 6.1 million unemployed youth in SA. Guys, grab on to this opportunity, make the best of it, get the knowledge, learn, and make the best out of this!”
To wrap up the session, the youth were given smartphones allocated to the Tarsus YES group.
The phones were loaded with the My Y4Y app that gives the students access to the educational content government has prepared for them, to help them on their journey to full-time employment.