An important amendment to the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) Codes of Good Practice has made it possible for firms to improve their scorecards between one and two levels by investing in youth work experiences through the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme.
YES is a one-year work experience programme designed to drive the employability of youth and ensure soft skills and work readiness. The work experience offers youth an opportunity to showcase their abilities.
YES opened for registration in November 2018, and government has since extended the Employment Tax Incentive and moved away from the general scorecard principles in an effort to encourage firms to scale their work experience offering.
The organisation, which is a joint initiative between business, labour, and government, aims to address South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis by creating 1 million work experiences for youth between the ages of 18 and 35 over the course of the next five years.
CEO of YES, Tashmia Ismail-Saville told a Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) forum that the need for a youth employment initiative in South Africa however “goes beyond the level of ticking the BEE boxes.”
She explained that South Africa’s unemployment rate is double that of Tunisia’s before the Arab Spring protests in that country. “We don’t have great social mobility and unemployment tends to be self-perpetuating - the biggest barrier to getting a job is not having one. Structurally we have locked people out.”
“We need to give people opportunities to prove what they can do, give them a foot in the door. YES gives youth one year to express their potential and allows the gems to shine,” she continued.
South Africa’s growth rates are stuck, and economic growth does not translate into jobs: “We have to do something different. At present, 3% of the population contributes 80% of the country’s personal tax. This is not sustainable. We need more taxpayers and we need inclusion,” Ismail-Saville said.
The programme also includes an exit strategy that helps with future employability, so that after a year of work experience, the candidate will have a CV, a credible reference letter and access to a digital network of employers and opportunities.
Ismail-Saville explained that following the amendment, employers are able to move up one B-BBEE recognition level by employing the minimum number of employees for the size of their organisation (measured on turnover) on a year-long contract, and by absorbing 2,5% of their YES youth in the second year.
By doubling their YES targets and absorbing 5% of their YES youth employees, companies can move up two levels on their B-BBEE recognition level.
Five companies registered with YES, including consumer healthcare multinational Johnson & Johnson, have leveled up their B-BBEE scores on this basis. As a foreign-owned multinational, Johnson & Johnson were previously unable to achieve a score higher than level 5.
Yuneal Padayachy from the Department of Trade & Industry’s (dti) Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Policy Unit said that while the YES initiative is a business-led and supported by government, it wanted to create an enabling environment through policy and “address youth unemployment without losing sight of transformation.”
Accreditation Manager at the South African National Accreditation System (SANAS) Mokgadi Rameetse said the partnership between YES and the dti is a commitment to make the process of employing the youth as simple as possible for corporates. “When we do it together, we will increase the economy,” she said.
Under the programme, employers can host YES youth internally within their company, or externally at one of the organisation’s implementation partners. “Our implementation partner models recruit and place the youth in the community, ensuring they are protected and ensured good work experiences,” Ismail-Saville said.
She gave examples of Deutsche Bank’s cohort of YES youth who have been deployed into township communities to work for a non-profit organisation; while Nedbank and MTN have assigned their youth to act as community agents to build their relationships with their expanding market.
“These activities start to spread economic impact through the implementation model and avoid too much of it being housed in very concentrated areas,” Ismail-Saville said.
11 000 youth have been placed in jobs since late last year, with a further 13 500 registered with YES and in the placement pipeline. However, reaching the target figure of a million jobs will require partnerships and programmes with a multiplier effect, and cannot be done with purely corporate placements, she added.
YES community hubs, the first of which was launched in Tembisa in 2018, support jobs in communities and advance training for placements in solar and hydroponics. The hubs’ small business support role is crucial, as this is where YES hopes to place youth in the subsequent years of the programme.
“While we can easily get bogged down in the technocratic detail of implementing the programme, it is important to remember that the initiative was started with passion and a singular focus on giving young people a chance. It is important that we carry on with that passion,” Ismail-Saville concluded.