Barely two years ago, Pollet Rirhandzu Rikhotso was one of South Africa’s estimated 8.5 million unemployed youth. Today, as part of a team working on vaccine trials for Covid-19, she’s on the front lines of South Africa’s fight against the pandemic.
Rikhotso is one of more than 40,679 young South Africans to have benefited from a 12-month work experience through the Youth Employment Service (YES) in the past 20 months. YES is a non-profit organisation (NPO) that works with business, government and labour to build economic pathways for youth.
Originally sponsored by consumer credit reporting agency, TransUnion, Rikhotso joined Youth Health Africa’s work experience programme in December 2018, where she was placed with healthcare NGO, Aurum Institute as an HIV Self Screener. A year later, she was employed full-time by the Aurum Institute, having grown into a confident HIV ambassador who could speak and educate her community on issues regarding HIV.
“Critically, I gained the skills needed to get into the job market. Although I could have used these skills in other sectors, I wanted to contribute more in healthcare. I was absorbed by the Aurum Institute, and now I’m helping recruit potential candidates that can participate in the country’s COVID-19 vaccine trials,” said Rikhotso.
Dr Tashmia Ismail, the chief executive of YES, said one of the biggest barriers to getting a job for South Africa’s unemployed youth is getting the critical experience that prepares them to be successful in the world of work. Experience on a CV and a reference letter triples the likelihood of a call-back within three months of job search. A reference letter doubles the chances of employment for women.
“The social impact of employing young people is immense. All the young people who come through the YES programme talk so powerfully about what it means to be able to support their families, but more than that, they are uplifting entire communities with their incomes,” said Dr Ismail.
A YES survey during the height of the lockdown, of over 3,000 youth placed in 12-month work experiences, showed that 80% of the youth surveyed were supporting more people financially with their YES salaries since the lockdown started, including family, friends and even neighbours.
To date, YES has worked with more than 1,186 private sector partners, including the likes of Telesure Investment Holdings, Nedbank, ABSA and VW. In this way, it has poured more than R2,16 billion into local economies through youth salaries.
Rikhotso, for one, says her life has been transformed by the YES programme. “I’m confident that I’m making a meaningful difference, and I’m proud to be contributing to the health response of a global pandemic. I’m so thankful to be on this journey, that started with becoming a YES youth,” she said.