By Jessie Taylor 

Improving Youth Employment 

Workplace experience can make youth more attractive to recruiters, helping them secure jobs and passing on real-world skills for their chosen profession.


This is the aim behind South African not-for-profit Youth Employment Service (YES). The joint national initiative between business, government and labour aims to address youth unemployment by placing unemployed, black youth into a year-long quality work experience. These placements provide not only an income to the participants but also represent a critical first chance at entering the workforce.


Closing the inequality gap

South Africa has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. In the last quarter of 2020, South Africa had around 20.5 million youth (aged between 15 and 34), of which almost 42% were not in employment, education or training.


This high unemployment rate impacts the poverty levels and cycle of inequality deeply entrenched in South Africa.


“The best way to close the inequality gap is to get people into work immediately and quickly. By earning an income, youth can begin to break the cycle of lifetime unemployment and poverty”, says YES chief executive Dr. Tashmia Ismail.


YES aims to solve a problem facing many South African youth – they can’t get a job without experience, nor can they get experience without a job.


Nearly 55 000 youth have participated in the programme over the last 124 weeks, with quality work experience placements at more than 1 480 companies. Some companies that have participated include Nedbank, Multichoice, Shoprite, Woolworths, PG Group, VW, Toyota, St. Gobain, Absa, Investec, Telesure Investment Holdings and Netcare.

The programme boasts between a 30 and 40% youth absorption rate.


“We aim to create, with our private sector partners, work experiences in all sectors. Youth have a wide range of interests and aptitudes, and we aim to create as many options as possible to ensure the best fit for both businesses and youth”, says Dr. Ismail.


In return for placing youth in work opportunities, businesses gain one or two levels on their B-BBEE scorecard per year. 


“This has seen R3.1 billion being ploughed into communities and the economy through youth wallets. YES has been ahead of the curve, integrating virtual learning for YES Youth into its programme, logging 8.3 million minutes of mobile digital training time”, says Dr. Ismail.


After the YES year, youth receive a CV, a reference letter and a certificate of completion.


A future-focused workforce

The programme was established as a special project of the CEO Initiative, challenging the private sector to tackle the youth unemployment crisis in South Africa.


“YES started as a conversation between business, government and labour on how they could work together, that culminated in an operational executed strategy, rather than more talk shop”, says Dr. Ismail.


The organisation was registered as a non-profit in August 2018 and the B-BBEE amendment to the legislation enabling YES was Gazetted by the Department of Trade and Industry in October 2018. Youth placements began in January 2019.


In just over two years, YES has established three community hubs in Alexandra, Saldanha and Tembisa, which have trained over 2 300 youths.


Faced with the pandemic, the programme has allowed participating youth to continue contributing to their families – the livelihoods of many who have been impacted by Covid-19.


“During lockdown, YES conducted a survey which measured economic activity and the impact of Covid-19 on YES Youth. Around 80% of the youth surveyed were supporting more people financially with their YES salaries since the lockdown started, including family, friends and even neighbours”, says Dr. Ismail.


The survey also highlighted the importance of technology and digital networks in the youth’s ability to access jobs.


Creating jobs, especially among the youth, is key to creating a new future for South Africa, adds Dr. Ismail.


“Thousands of jobs mean new taxpayers, new skilled employees, and new customers. Thousands of jobs could mean a new, more inclusive South Africa.”


Quick YES facts:

  • 60% of YES Youth are women
  • 88.4% of YES Youth come from grant-recipient households
  • 90.7% of YES Youth have dependents
  • 500+ B-BBEE levels up awarded


How can businesses get involved in YES?

  1. They can youth place inside their own business
  2. They can place youth externally through one of the 35 YES-vetted implementation partners (IPs) from across the country, consisting mainly of NGOs working in ten different industries, including healthcare, education, conservation and digital.

3. Invest in YES Hubs, which connect youth and the community to global best practice in training and technology, specially located and designed to address barriers to youth employment and economic inclusion. A range of activities takes place at a YES Hub, enabling innovation and a cross-pollination of ideas, seeding points for new business.


Contact Details

Address: 2 Arnold Rd, Rosebank, Johannesburg, 2196
Phone: 087 330 0084



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