South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis is fuelled by a shortage and mismatch of skills, but also by a lack of internships to help younger work seekers obtain the experience they need to secure permanent jobs. Covid-19 isn’t helping. Civil society and corporate players are working to solve this often-overlooked challenge with an innovative youth talent hub that matches skilled youngsters with practical private sector assignments that match their profiles, increasing their employability.
As South Africa commemorates Youth Day, the country is still reeling from the news that three-quarters (74.7%) of young people aged 16-34 are not working or in school. While this crisis is often blamed on a shortage and mismatch of skills, there is more to the conundrum. “There are plenty of young men and women with in-demand skills. Skills are not the only problem. Many are unemployed because their CVs lack practical working experience due to a shortage of opportunities to gain work experience,” says Onyi Nwaneri, CEO of Afrika Tikkun Services (ATS). This Johannesburg-based recruitment, training and work placement company specializes in corporate transformation by connecting skilled black youths into the workspace.
Covid-19 has made things more difficult, she says. “The private sector is hosting even fewer interns because of challenges relating to Covid 19 compliance health protocols and the fact that many of their staff are working from home. This doesn’t lend itself to effective supervising, mentoring, and the coaching of trainees. “This issue is chronically overlooked at this time, yet it is necessary to develop the next generation of productive workforce.”
In addition, many companies are still struggling with the aftermath of Covid-19. One report, the BeyondCOVID Report, for instance, shows that smaller and medium-size ventures have been hit hard: 54% of respondents said they were still working below their usual capacity because of the hard lockdown. “Many firms don’t have the capacity to take on, train, and mentor interns,” Nwaneri says.
To help to solve the problem, ATS has implemented a Talent Hub that matches participants of its employment and skills programmes with suitable assignments, tasks, and briefs obtained from private sector partner organisations. Currently, the initiative, which operates from the organisation’s Hyde Park offices but will move to a new facility later this year, accommodates +_100 employable young men and women at any given time. “From our own premises, we are helping participants put the skills they have acquired through us into practice, especially now that corporate hosting opportunities are in short supply,” Nwaneri says. “Skilling young people is not where our youth unemployment crisis stops. One also needs to allow them to get relevant working experience to make them employable and marketable.”
ATS intends to grow the number of Talent Hub participants in due course, especially after the move to the new facility. “We foresee it will take a while before it is business as usual within the private sector,” Nwaneri says. “In the meantime, we have to continue to hand our future workforce the tools they need to become an active and productive part of the economy. If we don’t do that, it will deter young people from studying and enhancing their skills. Why would you enhance your skills if it doesn’t make a difference in terms of finding a job?”
Besides being well-received among the young adults ATS has under its wings, the private sector has also responded well to the initiative. “By helping young people get tangible and meaningful work experience, we are strengthening the quality of the candidates/future employees companies have at their disposal.