Youth unemployment in South Africa – and globally – is an intractable problem that is a priority both in terms of the National Development Plan and the Sustainable Development Goals. The International Labour Organisation says youth unemployment affects 11.8% of people between the ages of 15 and 24 in Africa, while in South Africa a full 63.1% of young people are unemployed. With 52% of South Africa’s population under the age of 25, it is critical to find sustainable solutions.
Momentum Metropolitan Foundation (MMF) has been focused on one of South Africa’s biggest challenges – youth unemployment – since 2017. Its strategic focus on programmes that provide young people with the skills and capabilities they need to find employment are ultimately intended to lead to financial wellbeing and financially secure households. Many of the youngsters emerging from these programmes are employed either at Momentum Metropolitan Holdings (MMH) itself, or in the financial services sector, but they have also found work in other sectors.
Investigating whether programmes fall short of the mark
MMF has long been focused on learning through trial and error and being willing to change direction when new evidence comes to light. This takes a degree of bravery, according to Tasnim Alli, executive director at MMF, especially when answering to the board. However, MMF prefers “deep thinking as opposed to a superficial approach” and works hard to overcome challenges.
In 2017, it conducted baseline research into the programmes it had been investing in since 2015, largely because its somewhat fragmented approach had delivered limited impact. Investing in disparate areas like education, health, disability, and sports development as well as youth unemployment meant that it did not have a core focus and, as such, the beneficiaries of its employment- focused programmes did not thrive as anticipated. More often than not, they were placed in entry-level positions and received a salary lower than the minimum wage.
Although it is tempting to measure success by how many young people are placed in employment, the reality is that this feel-good metric does not consider whether youngsters are prepared for long-term careers or have the skills they need to adapt to an ever-evolving labour market. It is therefore crucial to maximise their earning potential, focus on which behavioural changes would make them more employable, and ensure they have the skills they need (including scarce skills) to progress in their careers. Above all, programmes must not just ‘plug the gap’ – they must be efficient but also strategic.
In 2020, MMF commissioned an evaluation of six MMF-supported programmes to better understand how relevant, appropriate, and effective these programmes have been. The evaluation revealed that four of the six programmes had achieved above-adequate scores and were clearly able to improve the employability of young people, preparing them for full-time employment. Two programmes were less successful, and the evaluation recommended that they could be strengthened by considering work-readiness skills, technical skills, practical workplace experience, career guidance and placement support (known as ‘matching’), and post- programme support.
During the pandemic, MMF has taken the approach that numbers do not tell the whole story. “These two programmes may not be reaching their targets in terms of numbers, but there is evidence that we have pointed young people in the right direction, and they are being mentored and acquiring further skills,” says Thabo Qoako, Monitoring, Evaluation and Compliance Specialist at MMF.“ Ithas been useful to focus on the targets we can achieve now, not just on hard targets, as this discounts the value created by the programmes.”
Programme adaptations during the pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns proved a challenge as programmes had to be taken online rapidly. This led to some teething problems, according to Qoako. “Although we had wanted to take programmes like consumer financial education online for a while, we could not have anticipated most of the challenges,” he says. “Even if you provide a course online, it does not mean that participants will start or complete it.”
One advantage of moving to the digital realm was increasing the reach of the programmes. “In previous years, we managed to reach around 10 000 young people in the school environment, but our online programmes have been able to reach about 18 000,” he says. The completion rate on our online programmes is 57%, while in the past, it was around 90%. We understand that for digital programmes that is a good completion rate, but we aim at achieving more.”
By contrast, youngsters who were already engaged in programmes like WeThinkCode were prompted by facilitators to finish courses, which improved completion rates – fewer have dropped out of the programmes than in previous years, perhaps motivated by a new appreciation of work instilled during the pandemic.
Lessons learnt from the crisis
Qoako says MMF tried to be all things to all people when the pandemic hit, but quickly learnt that it would be more impactful to focus its efforts on the partners within its ecosystem to help them achieve their targeted outcomes.
Beyond Covid-19, MMF is determined to “pick up the pieces and continue the journey of rebuilding”. It intends to grow its pool of strong, experienced, like-minded partners who share its objectives. MMF is currently putting together a more strategic disaster response that will empower its partners to deal better with crises in the future – with the understanding that resources will always be somewhat constrained. It is focusing on how to pick up the pace of digital programmes to ensure that more young people are equipped to survive in a world already geared towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“The pandemic has allowed us to take a long, hard look at the future of our beneficiaries, and ensure that there are more opportunities open to them,” says Alli. This includes enhanced collaboration. “We started a partners ‘client council’ for our non-profit partners to explore how they could learn, grow and collaborate. One of the most successful things to emerge from this is the development of a website for Quadpara Association of KZN by coding students of Life Choices. We have also strengthened our partnership with the National Education Collaboration Trust (NECT), which gives us a better chance at fixing some of the problems in the education sector. We have supported them as part of their national steering committee responsible for the Covid-19 response. We support collaboration and want to find new and meaningful ways to address big challenges with all our partners.”
By the numbers
MMF invested around R12 million in youth employment programmes in 2021, with the following results:
- 1 057 youth were recruited into youth empowerment projects (YEPs) by implementing partners.
- 283 young people completed technical skills training in IT, learnt to become call-centre agents, and were trained in fashion design.
- 155 young people gained physical workplace experience, with a small number doing so virtually.
- 74 young people who graduated from these programmes were placed in jobs.
Staff Volunteers Programme
During 2021, 2 535 MMH employees volunteered, with the cost to company amounting to R431 480.
- In-kind donations to the value of R250 000 were made by employees.
- Employees contributed R260 000 in payroll giving.
- There was a 17% increase in the number of employees volunteering for group-wide volunteering initiatives
There are various segments of the youth population that are more vulnerable to unemployment, including disabled youth and young women. The highest unemployment rate is among girls without matric. The challenge is to assist these youngsters without allowing programmes to show a gender bias towards girls. In addition, youngsters should not be encouraged to leave school to find work.
In 2021, 74 young people were placed in jobs, and of these, 60 were women – a big ‘win’ for the MMF and its implementing partners. In addition, WeThinkCode had the goal of ensuring that 50% of the participants in its programme were women – a target expected to be reached in 2022, but which was reached in 2021. This provides evidence that MMF’s gender parity agenda is receiving much-needed attention. The next step, says Qoako, is to take the digital and coding programmes to rural areas.