The recent Youth Employment Service launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa has put the spotlight on youth development, especially against the backdrop of the high youth unemployment rate. Over the last few years, HR Managers have been involved in several programmes to develop the country’s youth. For instance, on 15 July 2017, a group of 36 HR and other Managers participated in mock interviews as their contribution to the Mandela Day 67 minutes of making a difference in the lives of others who are in need of support. Some of these HR Professionals were part of the membership of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP), the HR Professional and quality assurance body of South Africa. Two SABPP Board members, Maropeng Sebothoma and Mpolai Liau also participated in the interviews, as well as several other SABPP Professionals. This initiative is managed by the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator. They already placed 35 000 previously unemployed young people into long term jobs through sourcing, bridging and matching.
I then continued my reflection by considering the role of HR, Recruitment and Talent Managers as gatekeepers of youth talent. I challenged my own thinking about the definition of talent when I realised that according to the narrow definition of talent, only the BSc graduate would probably be regarded as talent by most HR managers. But what about the rest? What about the more than 50% unemployed youth, most of them disadvantaged coming from a poor education system and poor households, with little hope or chance of finding meaningful employment?
However, the debriefing session also offered some interesting lessons for employers. In essence, it became evident that while young work seekers often have unrealistic expectations, employers also have unrealistic expectations. Employers expect a “perfect” young individual who can answer all questions in a professional manner and who can simply walk into an office and do all tasks with little or no training without making any mistakes. Also, given the fact that the youth has little or no experience, it is unrealistic for employers to expect the youngsters to display good evidence of work experience.
Thus, the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator challenges employers to reconsider current approaches of providing interviews for the youth in exactly the same way you would interview a 40-year old. Clearly the playing field is not level. The following guidelines are useful in removing barriers to youth employment, particularly from the perspective of opening up opportunities and accepting the need for allowing youngsters to learn and grow on the job:
Building on the above positive affirmations about talent managers as proactive champions of talent management and youth talent in particular, I realised how personal bias influences employment decisions about people in the workplace. For instance, consider the perfect CV received from a young talented individual from one of the top five universities. Such an individual can almost walk into a job. But if we are honest with ourselves, we will have to admit that we are often disappointed by the performance of the person who provided as with a perfect CV and a perfect job interview. Some people only perform during interviews, while their job performance leaves a lot to be desired. Hence, performance during interviews is not the same as job performance, yet we are making the mistake of disqualifying an inexperienced young person who is extremely nervous during an interview, despite the fact that potential is not recognised.
In conclusion, the Harambee experience demonstrated the key role of HR Managers as gatekeepers for youth employment. We can open the door of opportunity, or we can close it. The challenge is to balance the need for top talent, with the need for accommodating a broader pool of youth who will not necessarily meet the profile of top talent. However, organisations also need reliable solid citizens – people who can keep things going in call centres, in administration offices and in security and other support positions. While they are not the top talent in business, all companies need them to keep things going. Thus, an exclusive approach to talent management ensures that the masses are kept outside, while an exclusive club of selected talent are offered all the best opportunities. Hence, realising our role as gatekeepers, there is a need for a more inclusive approach for talent managers to recognise potential and to identify and leverage opportunities for the youth to be employed and developed in our organisations.
Lastly, I would like to encourage companies to link up with the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, in fact they will exhibit at the SABPP AGM on 21 June so that HR Managers can meet them. They have a captive audience of young people, and their work readiness programmes play a significant role in preparing youngsters for the world of work. Let us open youth employment and development opportunities, and provide the appropriate empowerment programmes, not only for the youth to be employed, but also for creating youth talent pools for the economy.
Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and Vice-chairperson of the UNISA Talent Council. For more information about the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, go to www.harambee.co.za