How businesses can help our youth


The numbers released last month by Stats SA remind us that there is an unemployment crisis in South Africa, especially among youngsters. More than two-thirds of young people in the country cannot find work, yet businesses regularly report that they can’t find the “right” person for the job.

Harambee Youth Accelerator has worked with a network of more than 600 000 unemployed jobseekers and partnered with more than 500 businesses. And this is what they found.

Around the world, employers are waking up to the reality that educational degrees are not the most important criteria for hiring. In fact, Apple and Google recently decided they would no longer require employees to have a college degree.

However, many businesses still hire mostly because of qualifications and skills – even if they aren’t good predictors of success on the job. Signals matter as much as skills when hiring young people.

A signal is a way of communicating credible information in the labour market that gives employers comfort in offering a job to a youngster with little or no prior experience. Look at the example of the matric certificate. While a matric certificate is typically not considered by many employers as a useful indicator that someone is able to do the job, finishing matric still matters as a signal because employers use the matric certificate as a way of filtering out people, even if the skills needed can be taught on the job. But more than half of young unemployed South Africans do not finish matric and are in the labour market looking for work.

Harambee helps its partners measure employability, which looks at all the dimensions needed for a young person to successfully find and keep their first job. This means looking beyond just school marks and paper qualifications to also measuring important things such as behaviours, attitude and learning capabilities.

Almost every employer uses a numerical assessment in their hiring processes, but this doesn’t measure learning potential and the ability to actually do the job. Employability is also about the basics, like the cost of transport to work.

Many youngsters have all the right stuff to do the job but can’t afford the taxi fare to get to and from work, especially in the first month when they haven’t received their first salary. Innovative solutions are needed for this challenge – like creating more opportunities closer to where they live, or helping businesses think harder about how to support a first-time jobseeker to manage transport costs so that they can succeed at work.

A ground-breaking study that Harambee recently completed investigated the impacts of providing an unemployed person with information about their other attributes and measured its impact on their ability to find work. Early findings showed that when jobseekers were given a summary report to share with potential employers, their likelihood of finding work increased by up to 17% and their earning potential increased by up to 32% compared with a group who didn’t receive the report.

The study also explored which signals employers valued by ranking candidate profiles. Communication abilities were found to be the most predictive for employment and earnings. Grit and resilience are also valued.

Young people need information that can help them better navigate the job market, including how to look for jobs, how to use their networks and how to prepare for an interview so that they can capably answer the common questions that arise.

Businesses need to learn to ask different questions and play a role in helping a young person get a foot in the door; ask about things they have done before, like volunteering or self-directed learning.

These are the small ways we can all make an outsized impact for so many young people who are hunting for work.

Another organisation that is working with young people is SA Teen Entrepreneur, which trains and coaches high school learners across South Africa in entrepreneurship. The programme seeks to equip young South Africans with the requisite skills to start their own businesses to alleviate the disproportionately high levels of youth unemployment in the country, says Lydia Zingoni, the founder and director of SA Teen Entrepreneur.

“We want to partner with businesses to reach younger people and demonstrate that entrepreneurship has the potential to change lives for the better.  Businesses or individuals can support us by:

  • Putting us in touch with the right people in your business, or in your networks, who might be looking for a worthy cause to support as part of their social investment programmes
  • Supporting one or more of our projects financially via our Back-a-Buddy platform More information about our organisation, along with an overview of the projects that we run can be accessed here –

For more information, contact Lydia Zingoni on 082 907 0739 or

Read the full story here.

About the author:

Maryana Iskanker is the CEO of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator.