10 things we have learnt about working with unemployed youth in South Africa …

1. Community organisations play a vital role in the fight against youth unemployment

Community organisations – be they youth projects, religious organisations, schools or even key community members – are vital in the fight against youth unemployment. They are the ones who know the community, and the people within it. Through the networks they have built within the communities, often for many years, they know who the unemployed youth are – or they know the people, who know the unemployed youth are.
In many cases, they have also often been working with the youth on development programmes. It could be personal and spiritual development through religious programmes, training courses that are offered, or mentoring. Or it could be more informal than that – we have met many people who care deeply for their community, and show it through supporting, encouraging and mentoring the youth around them. 
For our work at Grow, community organisations are vital as an entry point into communities. Working alongside well respected community organisations allows us to enter these communities. People may not know us, but they do know the partners we work with, so we gain a level of credibility through them. Our partners are doing amazing work and we are proud to work with them. 

2. Companies want to help fight youth unemployment but they often don’t know how

It doesn’t help that often recruitment companies have a bad name, or irritate HR departments with repeated phone calls. But when we do get far enough to tell people about our focus on unemployed youth in disadvantaged areas, then almost everyone we speak to is interested and wants to know more. We have some amazing people in companies that we work for, who are keen to find ways to get involved. And we know there must be more people out there that would love the opportunity to get involved. 

3. There are some great young people in communities, who are struggling to find work

We have met some amazing young people in communities. Passionate, intelligent, eager to learn, respectful and ready to get started. Some have finished matric, and others didn’t get that far. Some want to be nurses, others want to work in big business, some are fascinated by factories, logistics and how systems work, others love social media and marketing, others are creative and others love computers. Other young people, don’t know what they want to do, but they want to find out. 

4. It’s all about the access to opportunities

The biggest issue we have come across is connecting opportunities to the youth who are ready and waiting. We know the opportunities are out there, and we know the youth are there. But the companies, colleges and organisations with the opportunities often complain that they can’t find the right candidates.
The young people struggle to find out about opportunities – the information just doesn’t get to them. It might be that its just posted on a website, and the young person doesn’t have data, or that they only find out after the deadline. But the biggest thing that holds people back is the ‘expert advice’ that is spread around communities. The entrepreneurial CV writers who use a template to do people’s CVs, that do not sell the candidate and become the ’same’ as the other 300 CVs on the HR manager’s desk. Those that say that the best way to get a job is the get as many CVs printed up as possible, and drop them at an employers, because someone said, that someone they knew, knew someone who got a job that way. 
We have to get better advice, and expertise to our young people. 

5. It’s impossible to think of the future when you are desperate 

It does not matter how amazing or qualified the young person is, if their situation at home is desperate, they won’t be able to think about making strategic choices in relation to their career path. This is why, we aim to get people working as quickly as possible. Only once they are working, some money is coming in – even if it is an entry level position – and the initial panic is over, can we start working them on longer-term career planning. We take this approach, for the same reason that the Harambee Youth Accelerator make peanut butter sandwiches for their candidates – if basic needs are not met, then no young person can be expected to be at their best. 

6. Low marks does not necessarily mean what you think it does

We far too easily judge our young people by their matric certificate, and in particular when it comes to marks for mathematics. For example, the coding programme who only take on youth who have high marks in mathematics and IT. Our challenge to them was what about those young people who have the potential to be expert coders, but who had bad teaching at maths, and happened to go to a school where IT wasn’t an option. What about them?
There are so many factors that impact the marks young people achieve at school. It could be the quality of teaching, it could be the fact that the school was without a teacher for half the year, or the basics in primary school weren’t taught well. Or it could be a home situation, or the fact that they leave for school before 6am and only get home after 7pm. 
As the Chair of a School Governing Body for a school in Salt River, Cape Town and I see situations like these all the time. Some children from our school only get picked up past 5pm, delays with the WCED have meant classes have been without teachers while the paperwork gets sorted, some teachers are great at teaching maths and inspiring children, others aren’t, often due to poor teaching themselves.   
Let not just measure our youth on their matric marks, if in fact they made it that far. It may have been out of control. 

7. Matric certificates aren’t needed for everything

Without sounding too much like we are getting on our soap box, we do get very frustrated by some types of opportunities that are only made available to those with matric certificates. We get it – the pool of unemployed youth is huge, and you want the best – the matric certificate is an easy way to filter candidates. And, with funding available for courses, there are benefits in focusing on those with metrics. 
But when we see courses for shelf-filling, only open to those with matric then we think its gone too far. Not only does it exclude huge numbers of young people who don’t have matric. But we wonder, does it not make the the matric qualification worthless? That all you are qualified for, with a matric, is getting onto a training programme to learn how to pack shelves. 

8. Everyone has a dream

No matter how desperate someone is due what life has thrown at them, we believe that everyone has a dream – even if it’s buried deep in their sub conscious. At some point, even if it was when they were a child there was someone they were inspired to become – a teacher, a fireman, a secretary (one little boy we know wants to be a school secretary). We want to work with each individual job seeker to discover what they are passionate about and where their strengths lie – even if they aren’t sure themselves.

9. Youth need ongoing mentoring

When I think back to when I had our first job, I remember how little I knew and how many mistakes I made. And I had the benefits of a stable home life, great education and role models around me of people who were always in permanent work. Not everyone gets a start like that. My first job was a cashier in a supermarket, then I worked stacking shelves in the equivalent of Clicks. I had access to opportunities that others haven’t. I benefitted from mentors around me. 
All young people – and actually, all adults – benefit from mentoring. Whether it’s someone more experienced at work, a student a few years ahead, or an external expert, having a mentor to reflect on situations with, ask questions of and run through scenarios can greatly accelerate someone’s learning.
We can’t assume that young people, even those who passed matric, have been surrounded by role models in regards to work. In these cases, mentoring is even more important. This is why we continue to support our youth when they are in work. 

10. We are on this journey with some great organisations

We aren’t the only organisation working to fight youth unemployment. We share this space with some great projects doing amazing work – YES, Harambee and Timu are just three. We are grateful there are others, as we each take a slightly different approach, which means we can, together, get even more unemployed youth into work!

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