Organisations should urgently create employment opportunities for young people

Youth skills development for sustainable, inclusive growth must carefully consider ‘jobs of tomorrow’.

With Stats SA recently revealing that the country’s unemployment rate rose to 35.5 percent during Q4 of 2021, and youth unemployment hitting a staggering 65.5 percent in 2021, it is now imperative that we urgently expose youth to opportunities that will develop and ready them with critical skills and experience to make them relevant in an economy that has already started to be driven by ‘jobs of tomorrow’.

The government’s latest Critical Skills List comprises numerous banking and finance roles, emphasising the need for sector youth training programmes, skills development initiatives, and viable employment prospects. Many experts also agree that enhancing access to and availability of private-sector jobs will significantly assist in equalising the opportunities available.

According to data gathered by LinkedIn, Coursera and the World Economic Forum in the Future of Jobs Report 2020, 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines by 2025. On the other hand, 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.

Some of the roles that are already in high demand are in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) sphere and include data analysts and scientists, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning specialists, and robotics engineers. These ‘jobs of tomorrow’ also show the continuing importance of human interaction through roles in marketing, sales, strategic HR and content production. And, with the increasing consciousness around climate change and the emergence of the green economy, it is expected that a significant number of new jobs in low-carbon sectors could be created by 2030 and millions more by 2050.

It is now more urgent than ever to create placement opportunities for young people strategically, in line with national imperatives, the company's growth and sustainability ambitions and, most importantly, to meet the growing demands of a digital economy.

One key initiative that corporates can leverage to achieve these goals is the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme, officially launched in March 2018 by President Ramaphosa to address the country’s high youth unemployment figures. The objectives of the programme resonate with Nedbank’s purpose, which is ‘to use our financial expertise to do good for individuals, families, businesses and society’.

We first participated in the initiative in 2019 by selecting youth for various roles in the bank itself and with other partnering organisations. We were amazed by the sheer quality of the talent we discovered who were well qualified academically and just needing a breakthrough employment opportunity to spread their wings and be empowered. In the first year of our YES programme intake, we offered more than 3,300 youth internal opportunities collectively within Nedbank and within our implementation partners.

This intake of youth was, for the most part, qualified university graduates who were of such a high calibre that Nedbank’s absorption rate of these young people into permanent roles or continued contract employment when they off-boarded the YES programme was much higher than the prescribed requirement, and exceeded all of our expectations. Our overall absorption rate, inclusive of our implementation partners, was 20 percent – eight times over the Gazetted target of 2.5 percent.

The spread of Covid-19 temporarily halted the programme in 2020 but simultaneously demonstrated the urgent need to find long-term solutions to the youth unemployment crisis in South Africa. Throughout the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, companies soon realised that attempting to navigate a post-pandemic world would be futile without a ready pipeline of skilled talent and proactive succession and risk mitigation planning. This epiphany, compounded by the ‘brain drain’ effects of the country’s professionals heading overseas, further widened the skills gap.

The best type of potential employee? Someone with the critical skills relevant for tomorrow coupled with practical work experience. These are the individuals needed to lead South Africa’s workforce and create a sustainable and transformed economy.

In 2021, more than 1,900 youth entered Nedbank’s YES programme. Of these, Nedbank hosted 150 who aligned with our focus on addressing future critical capabilities. The balance of the intake was spread among our implementation partners: Wildtrust, ORT SA, [email protected], Conservation SA, and R’Labs.

When selecting the disciplines that participants would be exposed to, we focused on experience that would be ‘future-fit’ and contribute to critical components of a net-zero economy, and other specific fields that support a green economy. In particular, those employed at Wildtrust were exposed to environmental education, marketing and communications, land care, eco-tourism and sustainability and conservation.

With Nedbank embracing the value that the programme provides for both the company and young people, 103 of the 150 youth hosted by Nedbank in 2021 were offered formal employment – a staggering 67 percent absorption rate into life-changing career opportunities. Overall, the cumulative absorption rate between Nedbank and its implementation partners is at a pleasing 12.8 percent against the Gazetted target of 2.5 percent.

For the 2022 intake, more than 2,000 youth have entered the year-long YES programme to date. In this intake, Nedbank is hosting more than 600 candidates into its own clusters – a substantial increase, with the balance being placed with suitable implementation partners.

From a 4IR perspective, there is no doubt that digital competencies such as data science, robotics, cybersecurity, etc., are non-negotiables for most organisations necessary to compete. The good news is that the Department of Education recently confirmed that robotics and coding will be officially added to the school curriculum from the 2023 academic year, creating a more solid foundation for essential skills relevant to our digital age.

This will be a long-term benefit to the economy, but the reality is that we need these skills for positions that exist today. As such, Nedbank partnered with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to provide free cloud computing skills development and job training to YES participants through the AWS re/Start programme. The course provides hands-on labs and coursework, prioritising networking, security, and relational database skills.

Preparing youth for the working world is one thing, but launching them into a successful career is another. Ensuring workplace readiness is one of the main goals of the YES programme, and we realised that a well-considered offboarding strategy is equally imperative to its success.

After successfully completing Nedbank's 2019 intake, an internal review of the YES youth's talent profiles was conducted, including their respective performance reviews, and collated into a publication that was shared with various recruitment agencies. Our graduates were equipped with tools and material to help them prepare for future job interviews, compile a proper CV and advance in entrepreneurship by finding opportunities in their own communities.

To truly capitalise on the advantages of the YES programme and create an empowered and inclusive workforce and society, the jobs and partnerships generated need to be sustainable. But, more importantly, they need to impact the community where the youth are based, enabling them to secure employment.

Looking at many of South Africa's youth, despite the challenging circumstances they face, among many there is an extraordinary level of drive, determination, passion, commitment, and eagerness to learn. Moreover, there is hope – corporates can be confident that by giving these young people their first jobs, they will empower inspiring leaders and entrepreneurs who will, in turn, create future opportunities for generations to come.