Harambee, a South African “youth employment accelerator” links talent-hungry businesses with promising poor kids. It is popularly known as a dating service and a finishing school, according to Lebo Nke, an executive at the Johannesburg-based social enterprise, which since 2011 has helped more than 50,000 youths find work.
One such youth is Thabo Ngwato who was forced to drop out of University when his mother retired and money wasn’t enough to support his education. He resorted to source for jobs and occasionally place job applications in town.
Thanks to Harambee that for the past two years, the 23-year-old has worked at a Johannesburg call center, earning enough to support his mother and nephew. He recently bought his first car to speed up his three-minibus trip to work. “I know how to network, look for employment. The skills are ones I can take anywhere,” he said.
In South Africa, a record 5.5 million youth are searching for work unsuccessfully, many living in slums far from big employers. It’s not a surprise that he hardly got any response in a country with one of the world’s highest youth unemployment rates at 26%. Jak Koseff, head of Tshepo 1 Million, a youth jobs push run by Gauteng Province said that location is the heart of the problem.
To change that, Harambee sends young recruiters often called “feet on the streets” – into deprived townships and collects contacts of young people hoping for jobs. Some of them are then invited into its offices for a day to gauge their interests and skills, test their analytical thinking, and help them create an email account and CV.
They also guide them through everything concerning job interviews and even offer free interview clothes to those that don’t have one. Youth who show promise for challenging jobs get additional assessment and vocational training for up to eight weeks in call-center work once a specific opportunity is identified.
Candidates then wait to be called for an interview when one of the 425 businesses Harambee partners with. “Businesses such as Nando’s restaurants, Microsoft and Standard Bank come looking for trained youths,” Nke said.
“You have to consider the cost of maintaining that job,” Koseff said. In some cases, transport costs will put a worker into debt, he added.
Employers pay a share of Harambee’s spending to prepare a candidate when they hire one. This pool of well-coached applicants has helped them increase the diversity of their workforce and find dedicated staff, they say.
Cathy Kalamaras, managing executive for people at Webhelp SA, the Johannesburg call center where Ngwato works, is one of the breadwinners. She said, “They’re willing and they’re hungry. What I absolutely love about sourcing from Harambee is that they come with that motivational factor. And because of this efficiency, Webhelp has expanded from 350 workers five years ago to 4,200 today.” She added.
Even South Africa’s new president, Cyril Ramaphosa is bootstrapping more youth into jobs. The businessman is pushing reluctant companies to give 1.5 percent of after-tax profits towards funding a year-long paid work experience for unemployed youth through the Youth Employment Service scheme.
Meanwhile, Ngwato said that with the skills he learned at Harambee and at work, he now advises his peers on how to find work and has started a soccer team for social advantage.
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