Nomthandazo Nompilo Mawelele, from Pongola in northern KwaZulu-Natal, completed matric in 2012 and has struggled to find employment since. Her story is not new among young people in South Africa. As the country faces an economic recession, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a further rise in unemployment, young people face a daunting task in securing employment once they have completed their studies.
Acknowledging the urgent need for the youth to be employed, the South African Technology Network (SATN), Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and Milzet Holdings – a skills development provider that offers a range of programmes for corporate learning and development – embarked on a partnership last year to actively assist young people in securing their futures.
According to SATN CEO Dr Anshu Padayachee, the UIF-SATN-Milzet partnership supports the job activation programme of the government. It has successfully trained 826 unemployed young people in the skills of hairdressing, beauty and nails, real estate and environmental management.
“This comes at a time when the country is experiencing high levels of unemployment and job losses. This will provide the candidates with an opportunity to acquire jobs or set up their own businesses in these skill areas,” she said.
The year-long programme is divided into two months of theoretical training conducted by Milzet and 10 months of work experience. Dr Suren Govender, who is managing the project for SATN, said the programme was born with the “aim of providing certified training for unemployed youth in line with labour market requirements”.
Mawelele began classes in beauty and nail technology in November last year. Thereafter, she was placed with a host employer (at no cost to the employer) in Pongola for 10 months of work experience. She has been receiving a ZAR2,000 (US$119) monthly stipend from the UIF for the duration of the learnership (12 months). She has also received free personal protective equipment and the equipment required for her work placement.
“I began two months of training in November last year,” she said. “In February I was placed at a salon in the town. I was so excited to be working and doing something to improve my life.”
However, with the COVID-19 lockdown, the salon had to close and Mawelele returned to work only at the end of August. In spite of this, she is still excited about her future and feels she is learning something new every day. “I’m still learning – I go to work every day because I want to be able to be the best in my town.”
Govender said the SATN has an agreement with the UIF to train 4,000 students through this programme. Thereafter, depending on its success, they will engage with the UIF to continue the programme in the future.
A new group of students has already been recruited to begin their theoretical training. Padayachee said 2,400 learners have been recruited across South Africa and they will begin their training soon. “Thereafter, they, too, will be placed with host employers for a further 10 months.”
“We are excited about the opportunity to assist young people in finding work. These are difficult times and the lockdown has seen the start of this project being stalled until companies could re-open,” said Govender.
“However, we are confident that this will be a win-win opportunity for employers as well as students because the students can be trained, and gain experience and the employer has an employee without incurring any costs.”
Irish-SA entrepreneurial programme
Govender said SATN will be monitoring the progress of the students closely. “The aim is to select about 1,000 of these students for placement in our five-day entrepreneurial programme,” he said.
The entrepreneurial programme is run by the SATN in collaboration with Cork Institute of Technology and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland and the Irish Embassy, as well as local partners such as the South African Department of Labour and Department of Higher Education and Training, investors, businesses and funding agencies. It was developed to ensure that students have the necessary tools to be successful entrepreneurs.
“At the end of the day, we want our students to be able to start their own businesses. The learnership we’re offering now is the first step in achieving that,” said Govender.
Mawelele hopes that, once she has completed her on-the-job training, she will be placed permanently at the salon in which she is currently working, or with another in Pongola. If not, she says she has the equipment to work from home until she can find a job or open her own salon. But her dream is to be chosen to participate in the SATN entrepreneurship programme so that she can establish her own salon or spa in Pongola.
“This learnership has given me hope. I am very happy that I have a skill and can earn my own money now,” said Mawelele.
*This article first appeared in University World News.