Reducing youth unemployment in spite of global pandemic

According to statistics from Trading Economics the youth unemployment rate in South Africa – before the COVID-19 outbreak – decreased to 58.10 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 from 58.20 percent in the third quarter of 2019. This small margin is definitely not something to be celebrated; especially considering the after-effects of this pandemic on the global economy in the first half of this year.

One of the challenges faced by this country’s youth has been to secure employment after graduating as companies are always looking for candidates with experience. But the big question is ‘where is the youth supposed to obtain this experience from?’ immediately after graduating. In addition, skills shortage remains one of the challenges of the 21st century in developing countries like South Africa.

It is for this reason that an initiative such as the internship programme has been adopted by South African public and private organisations such as the Afrovation Group to enhance skills development, knowledge and experience. Afrovation has been playing its part in the country’s internship programme since 2017, when it took a specific group of eight (8) graduates – aged between 18-35 years – under its wing to be groomed by its experienced, senior employees within the company. The intended end result after the ten (10) month programme was not only to train, coach and mentor these graduates, but to also absorb some of the graduates into permanent employment.

Maxwell Ramutla, Group CEO of Afrovation says: “As we speak, 50% of these graduates have been employed on a full-time basis and they are still with the company assigned to senior employees to ensure their continued growth in their respective fields of study. As Afrovation, we did not only provide these unemployed graduates with workplace experience that builds on their qualifications because it is stipulated by the Media Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT Seta) – but we also did this because we felt that it was the right thing to do. This one of our core driving principles, that business success should always be aligned to community growth and development.”

Despite the prevailing global economic climate, Afrovation is one of the African companies that is still willing to partner with the local MICT Seta in its quest to use the concept of Internships to fast track high level skills transfer, to offer the much-needed work experience to unemployed graduates and empower them with practical knowledge that commensurate with their qualification.

Kedidimetse ‘Didi’ Sebopela, a 27-year old from Mapobane, Pretoria, is now an Account Manager at the Afrovation Group after starting off as an intern in 2017. She says: “My four-year experience at Afrovation has been a roller coaster ride, I’ve had to learn to swim in very deep waters and have over the years been forced out of my comfort zone. This has helped me to grow as a person and in my career path.

“I am now very confident with myself and my work, I do everything to the best of my abilities but at the same time have allowed myself to be guided by the amazing team that I work with. In all honesty, to be employed during these tough economic times that face companies globally is a blessing. Afrovation has not just provided me with an employment opportunity but also a chance to be part of a diverse family with a great culture.”

Besides the youth that has been employed through the internship programme, the company has in its employ 16 young people of which 50% are female out of a total of 35 employees. Afrovation is experienced in providing technology solutions, through cloud email services, telecommunications infrastructure, data enrichment and verification. These young, budding employees have had the opportunity to be exposed to the different aspects of the business.

Ramutla explains: “As Afrovation, we do not operate in a vacuum, our company is also impacted by the negative outlook on unemployment that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic threatening millions of jobs in South Africa and causing what seems to be insurmountable economic depression. Our company has in the last few months – during the COVID-19 Lockdown – been occupied by the need to save the jobs that it has created in the last few years. This is also done to protect the strides that we have made in defining a lasting value proposition and ensuring that we continue to deliver the services promised to our entire client base.”

“We have taken advantage of the R500-billion social and economic stimulus package announced by President Ramaphosa aimed at keeping the economy going and saving jobs during this difficult period. We have taken the option of tapping into the UIF, which has been made available for companies like ours to be able to pay employees and minimise retrenchments. Together, we will get through this difficult time in the global human story.”

This year has seen a number of employees in SA being more concerned and grateful to have a job than worrying about the reduction of salaries. When asked, this is what other young people in the company had to say about being permanently employed at the Group:

Banele Mabuza, affectionately known as “Mr Mabuza Sir, is the Public Participation Specialist. The 29-year old, Soweto-born and bred Mabuza says: “Since my time as an intern, I’ve had the privilege of working with mentors that have taught me the value of a great work ethic which has helped me to become as independent as I am today. I am now able to work and deliver value without supervision and I am grateful that Afrovation has entrusted me with the responsibility to use innovative measures to excel and ensure business continuity.

“The internship programme combined with the opportunity to strive for excellence while working independently has done wonders for my confidence. It motivates me to strive to add value to the company and to want to make a difference even during the COVID-19 period. I am grateful to be employed in these tough times and would like to thank Afrovation for being there from the beginning of my career to now.”

Afrovation Group’s core business is in Information and Communications Technology (ICT), but it also has subsidiaries that include Afrovation Property, Transport, Transmission, Veri5 (Verification), Investments, Incubation and the Afrovation Foundation. The company has made a concerted effort to ensure that these graduates – who are now permanent employees – gain experience in various parts of the Group. This has helped them to broaden their knowledge about the entire business and build their capacity.

Sabelo Lusiba, a 31-year old from a small town called Molteno in the Eastern Cape – who now holds a crucial position as a specialist in IT Technical Support for Afrovation Technology concurs with his two colleagues. He believes that this opportunity has done wonders for his career growth as he has been tasked with the responsibility to diagnose, repair and maintain hardware as well as software components to ensure the smooth running of computer systems.

Most importantly though, Lusiba plays a crucial role of providing support to both Afrovation’s internal users and external points (clients) and he is now the primary point of contact for error reporting and fixing. Echoing his colleagues’sentiments, Lusiba says: “I am grateful to still be employed in these trying times, to be part of a company that is able to reduce negative technological situations by finding innovative ways to ensure that clients are always happy. Our customer satisfaction rate keeps rising proving that my role in IT Support contributes positively in the customer’s overall impression of the company and our technological capabilities.”

Mava Mkuzo – a Customer Support Lead at Afrovation responsible for liaising with service providers, concluded by saying that he appreciated the fact that he was still employed and that he had some encouraging words to his management: “Tough times will not last; but the strength and willingness of the entire team to keep pushing forward will help propel Afrovation – an African ICT Innovation giant in my opinion – to greater heights.”

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