The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt another harsh blow South Africa’s already untenable youth unemployment rate, which reached 58.1% in the last quarter of 2019. Now, more than ever, the country’s youth will struggle to find a place in the economy and many of those who had just entered the workplace may have seen their jobs placed on hold, or worse, lost.
“Young people are worst affected by unemployment because it is difficult for them to gain workplace skills and experience. Many organisations expect new employees to hit the ground running, but if job applicants have never been given the opportunity to get some form of experience, they are often overlooked. Of course, we hire people at a professional level, but we also are highly cognisant of the need to encourage young people – with a particular focus on women – to enter the sustainable energy sector and gain the necessary skills to make meaningful contribution in the workplace,” says Abigail Fidelis, head of people and organisation at Enel Green Power South Africa (EGP RSA).
The company introduced an internship programme three years ago after partnering with the University of Johannesburg and Wits’ engineering departments to get a view on how many young people were interested in getting into the renewable energy sector.
Besides enlisting civil and electrical engineering students for the internship programme, EGP RSA also recruits and upskills non-graduates to run its control rooms.
“We understand that some companies may not always have the budget to equip young people with the necessary skills and experience to make them work-ready, it is their responsibility to do so as much as they can with the resources they have. In a fast-changing industry such as the renewable energy sector, young people are particularly valuable because of their ability to think out of the box and adapt quickly. With the onset of the pandemic lockdown, our employees – especially youth – made the shift to working remotely swiftly and seamlessly.
“Importantly, it is helpful to enlist young people to come up with ideas around green energy and the preservation of resources for the next generation. After all, their children will be the next generation and who better to ensure they have the resources they need to thrive?” she says.
Research indicates that millennials and Gen-Z are not as interested in job titles as they are in moving into better work environments.
EGP RSA is part of Enel Global’s four schools of learning, that is, business development, operations & management, commissioning and engineering & construction. The parent company has partnered with different universities in Italy – Milan and other business schools – and came up with a globally accredited programme for the advancement of its employees.
“The first programme we participated in was the School of Business Development, about six of our South African employees now have master’s degrees in business development through an accredited university in Italy,” says Fidelis.
In June 2020, two of EGP RSA employees graduate from the same programme, which comprises a combination of face-to-face learning in Italy and online learning and project work back in South Africa. Another two employees, who recently graduated from the School of Commissioning, fall into the under-35-year age group.
Finally, EGP RSA’s mentorship programme – From Leader to Coach – is designed for the company’s middle to senior management level employees, who attend leadership workshops and receive individual coaching sessions.
The programme, which also focuses on nurturing emotional intelligence, allows leaders to change their mindset from traditional types of leadership thinking to embracing a coaching style of management. The focus here is for leaders to get their team members to solve problems for themselves, rather than doing it on their behalf.
“It’s rare for us not to absorb them – the internship contract is one year so we like to pride ourselves that we train them to be absorbed into the company and the ones we can’t absorb got jobs elsewhere, so we have still prepared them for the world of work.
“We believe these initiatives and an open communication environment have made EGP RSA a desirable place to work. In addition to the sector we operate in, our focus on youth and women has set us apart from our competitors, something we are particularly proud of,” says Fidelis.