More than half of our youth are unemployed, and the figure is rising because of Covid-19. With the ongoing restrictions owing to the pandemic, young people in entry-level positions and those in the restaurant industry are most heavily affected. The majority of positions in restaurants – kitchen staff, waitresses, cashiers, and hosts – are occupied by young people.
‘The youth that we meet through our programmes and partnerships are often on the verge of giving up, because it’s so hard to find opportunities, especially if they don’t have the necessary skills and training – and the pandemic has definitely made it worse,’ explains Nkosinathi Mahlangu, the Youth Employment Portfolio Head at the Momentum Metropolitan Foundation.
For the last three years, the Momentum Metropolitan Foundation has made youth employment their main focus area. Thanks to the lessons learned during these years, they have managed to refine their strategy to make it more focused and impactful.
‘When we started out, our main aim was to get our youth employable. We focused largely on upskilling and training interventions. However, we later realised that this was only one side of the coin. Being trained is one thing; being employed is another. This is why all our programmes now also focus on employment, and not only on employability.’
The Momentum Metropolitan Foundation is currently focusing on three key areas of youth employment: digital skills, entrepreneurship and vocational skills.
‘In our digital space, we have partnered with WeThinkCode, a network of revolutionary tech institutions dedicated to delivering Africa’s human potential and meeting the increasing demand for software engineering skills,’ explains Mahlangu.
By this time, it is no secret that coding and other digital skills are currently in high demand and will become even more so in future, as our world becomes more digitalised. This is also the reason that the Momentum Metropolitan Foundation has made it one of their main focus areas.
‘We are also putting our money where our mouth is. Not only are we investing in the training of these youngsters, but Momentum is currently also hosting 15 of them as interns to gain valuable workplace experience. So far, 14 of them have been offered permanent placement at our company. We are also using our networks to find work-based experience opportunities through internships for the next cohorts.’
However, seeking employment for their beneficiaries is not the only answer. ‘There simply aren’t enough opportunities to ensure employment for everyone. Many businesses closed down or cannot afford to take on more staff as a result of Covid-19. This brings me to our second key area: entrepreneurship.’
In this space, the Momentum Metropolitan Foundation has recently partnered with Agri Enterprises to build capacity and support female-owned enterprises in agriculture. Why is there a special focus on women?
Mahlangu explains: ‘Women tend to be overlooked in most sectors, and agriculture is normally a male-dominated area. We want our programmes to be inclusive and accessible to all, and we want specifically to elevate the economic status of women, who often get the shorter end of the stick in our economy. We want to enable them to start businesses, employ others, and become the drivers of growth in their areas.’
The Momentum Metropolitan Foundation’s last youth employment focus area is the development of vocational skills. Here the Foundation forms partnerships with organisations like Ubuntu Pathways that train young people in skills that are needed in various industries, especially in retail – such as cashiers, waitresses, or reception and admin staff in the hospitality sector. These programmes also strive for inclusivity by offering opportunities to women and young people with disabilities.
Even though our economy has been affected by Covid-19 and job opportunities for youth have become more scarce, Mahlangu says there is hope in SMEs. ‘We simply cannot rely on corporate companies only to create employment opportunities, which is why we are also shifting our focus to SMEs.
‘Now is the ideal time to form partnerships with SMEs that are struggling to hire resources, and to use them as platforms for our youth to gain workplace experience. It gives SMEs the much-needed resources that they can’t afford at the moment, which will help them stay afloat, while the youth in our programmes gain much-needed workplace experience. Once business improves, we might see some of these SMEs employing these interns on a permanent basis.’
Going a step further, Mahlangu also says that the Momentum Metropolitan Foundation and our NPO partners are making it their business to have important discussions around the remuneration of the youth who enter the marketplace. ‘If our main aim is only to find employment, we will be missing the point. We want people to be able to make a living for themselves, to uplift them and their families. This can only happen if we can ensure a decent wage in alignment with the national Department of Employment and Labour.’