It’s been a year since President Cyril Ramaphosa touted the Youth Employment Service (YES) as “a timely, worthy, and ambitious response to youth unemployment” at the initiative’s launch.
StatsSA’s latest figures reveal that 38.9% of the total population age 15-24 are currently not in employment, education, or training (NEET). “Youth unemployment”, Ramaphosa said, “is perhaps the most pressing social and economic challenges facing our country at this moment”.
Initially conceptualised in 2016 as part of the CEO Initiative — where CEO’s of South Africa’s largest firms committed to work with government and labour forces to promote economic growth — YES has come far.
According to YES CEO Tashmia Ismail-Saville, there are partnerships in place with 450 companies to provide youth opportunities. Besides jobs at corporates like MTN and Investec, there is also a focus on new jobs creation at community level, through YES Hubs.
YES has provided, on average, 864 jobs per week since it launched in November, committing to 15 000 one-year work experiences so far. “In the current economic climate, this is solid progress”, says Ismail-Saville. “Already, six companies have had their Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) levels stepped up. This means the full YES operation from end-to-end is working.”
YES has its detractors too. Tessa Dooms, who previously worked at a company specialising in youth insights that consulted with YES, says the model is too “transactional”.
“YES is a good solution in terms of the employment landscape, because most organisations don’t have a direct line of access to the job market. Where it failed is that the model around B-BBEE means that it’s driven by incentives, rather than by actual job creation,” says Dooms. “It’s too focused on getting points for the company, as opposed to being centred on the young person.”
But Ismail-Saville says that without figuring out the mechanism that incentivises business to pay to give youth a chance, jobs simply won’t happen. “The reality of the jobs market is that there are no jobs. The work of YES has to be opening new opportunities, especially given the large number of youth with no matric and absence of previous work experience.”
Young people who’ve acquired jobs through YES say it has opened doors for them. Midrand-based Thabo Mahlakoane is on a one-year contract with commodities company McCormick, which he started in February. The 24-year-old, who studied marketing at Vaal University of Technology (VUT), earns R6 000 per month. “There’s a small deduction, less than R100, for Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF)”.
Ismail-Saville says that while salaries range, youth need to have at least the legal minimum wage (R3 500 a month) applied on all contracts.
Russel Slevens, 22, has completed short courses in sound engineering, film and TV, and occupational health and safety. He began his one-year internship at MTN in December 2018, and earns R5 500 a month, before UIF deductions. “I would recommend YES, because being part of this teaches you a lot”, he says. “This has really given me a chance to grow”.