YES, the aim is one million new jobs

Men stand outside a hardware store in Dobsonville, Soweto, looking for piece jobs. The state has embarked on an initiative to address unemployment, particularly of young people. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Men stand outside a hardware store in Dobsonville, Soweto, looking for piece jobs. The state has embarked on an initiative to address unemployment, particularly of young people. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)

Powerful shifts are taking place in the way institutions and businesses operate. Businesses, brands and products are no longer being defined by isolated decision-makers at the top of a hierarchy but by the people who are most affected by them.

More and more, people “are demanding a say in the institutions that impact them”, according to a writer in The Globe and Mail’s leadership lab. “It’s an exciting revolution and many organisations are responding with new ways of working.

“In many examples, we see that consumers are determining what a company’s brand is, not the other way around.
Many hospitals are involving patients in key business decisions for the first time. And smart companies are leveraging social media to co-design and fund products with their customers.”

It is important to acknowledge, whether you’re in business or government, you serve a market.

In today’s world, the only way to thrive is to create a constant dialogue between an organisation and the people it serves. But we need to take a step further than this: we need to invite customers and constituencies to come up with solutions.

The government decided to employ this concept to address one of South Africa’s greatest problems: unemployed younger people. At 37%, South Africa is currently reported to have the highest youth unemployment percentage fin the world, which is a key factor for sluggish economic growth.

To turn this around, the government realised that something drastic and different had to be done. We realised that the walls of our silos had to be demolished and we had to experiment.

We invited a range of representatives of players in the economy to come up with possible solutions; we asked the “customers” to help to define our “product”.

One of the customers is the private sector. Through the CEO Initiative, business proposed a special purpose vehicle to address it.

Business leaders held discussions with the government, labour and civil society. Together, after many iterations, they came up with a social compact called the Youth Employment Service (YES), a nonprofit organisation to drive the creation of new jobs, one million over the next five years, for the youth.

That will be 55 times as many as all the new jobs created in South Africa last year. Ambitious, yes, but the problem demands it.

To facilitate this kind of growth, we need to approach things in creative and new ways.

YES is using modern tools and technology and is collaborating with different sectors and industries and seasoned implementation agencies to create more jobs where the majority of South Africans live. Primarily it wants grow the small, medium and micro-sized enterprises, which are regarded as the single most important drivers of jobs.

The department of trade and industry has designated YES as an entity operating outside of government.

Rather than have a department in the government juggle this initiative with several other demands and red tape, YES has one single focus: to drive job creation, broker youth job placement and to help to create the infrastructure needed to support those jobs. It will be reporting to the trade and industry department on the number and quality of youth placements.

The department has evolved broad-based black economic employment policy to support the initiative. Companies participating in YES can now claim broad-based black economic empowerment points and move up one level on their scorecards. This is in line with other empowerment legislation.

YES represents a fundamental change in the way that policy has evolved in South Africa. The government invited everyone to come up with solutions.

The private sector then pioneered the idea of YES. The government responded by evolving legislation to support and incentivise it. The process was and is supported by labour.

YES came from a new space, one in which stakeholders pulled together to meet a need rather than defend their own respective corners of responsibility.

Incumbents must allow it the oxygen it needs to see whether doing things differently can achieve bigger and better results. South Africa needs big wins for our still-disadvantaged black youth.

With the historical silos disintegrating, a new ambitious goal to drive down youth unemployment, a revolutionary collaborative focus and invigorated policies, imagine the South Africa that we can become.

Lionel October is the director general of the department of trade and industry

Lionel October

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