South Africa’s expanded unemployment rate has risen from 6m in 2001 to 9.6m in 2018. With these significant unemployment figures looming large, it can be challenging to keep a positive outlook. Until you pay a visit to Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator.
Harambee means ‘we win when we pull together’. If you don’t know them, Harambee is an ambitiously successful and spirited youth employment accelerator, designed in 2009-10 to tackle youth unemployment through partnerships and scale. Harambee was incubated in 2011 by Yellowwoods with a group of 5 funding employers and just 40 young people. They certainly have come a long way. To date they have placed over 55 thousand young people into paid employment and their plans are to shift this number to 100 thousand by the end of the decade.
We know that if a young person gets and keeps their first job, they are much more likely to remain employed for the rest of their life. But employers shy away from recruiting young and entry-level employees, not least because of the gaps presenting between the education system and the skills required in the world of work. Redressing educational and psychosocial issues caused by poverty can also increase costs for employers, and up perceived risks, creating a barrier for young people hoping to enter the workplace.
Harambee tackles these issues head-on by assisting with formal placement (demand-led) and through empowering young people with personal and skills development. And they have a unique approach. Unlike employers who typically use school grades as a basis for entry-level screening, Harambee assesses learning potential and measures what is described as ‘fluid intelligence’ – the ability to learn quickly in a new environment. This helps with understanding the person’s likelihood of performing in an opportunity. “78% of young people would have been excluded for entry-level positions based on their math scores, yet the learning potential assessment indicates that around 90% would be suitable for most entry-level jobs” says Nicola Galombik, co-founder of Harambee.
Although not every candidate can be placed, joining Harambee offers development opportunities and connection into a network where future placement is a possibility – jobs seekers emerge more prepared to meet the demands of entry-level roles. The dedicated mobi site is absolutely free for young work seekers who are unemployed and have been looking for a job. Offices are located in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Port Elizabeth, East London, Durban and Cape Town however Harambee services any part of the country where there is demand. Employers benefit from access to pools of talent previously undiscovered or inaccessible. It seems a win-win on all sides. So what underpins this success?
Harambee take pride in their relatively flat structure. And there is no doubt that there is a special energy about the place. But what really impresses is their adoption of tech to make a big and purposeful impact. Harambee has used machine learning and big data solutions to tackle the challenge of youth unemployment in South Africa, earning them a keynote spot (one of two organisations only) at the Google NEXT 2018 conference in Silicon Valley. They are developing an alternative pathwaying platform using a pretty smart, world-leading algorithm described as having the rules to include and not exclude. It takes account of the zigzagging young people are used to and reflects the kind of disruption characteristic of the gig economy. The platform analyses skills and suggests routes to employment (rather than just matches to jobs), and this could include short-term contract work. Harambee can access their data and understand both employers and candidates better. ‘Data we are gathering allows us to shine a light on all the great things (young people) can be and are’. Accolades are aplenty and include The CX Game Changer Award from Genesys for customer experience innovation, providing global recognition for their contact centre, and a nomination for the 2018 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.
It is this fusion of clever, cutting-edge tech and deep human respect that comes home on a visit to the Fox Street offices. Sam Varney, Manager of Solution Analytics, showed me around, explaining the what, where and how of what they do. As a man with a large empty container passed us, Sam explained that young people are offered a sandwich and a piece of fruit before training. Full stomachs help people learn. There is also a room full of clothing supplies to assist candidates to get kitted up ‘right’ for interviews and the first few weeks of work. Simple, human things make a big difference indeed.
As Sam walked me to the lift at the end of my visit, she told me how lucky she feels to be part of Harambee, to be able to go to work there each day. And I left feeling like the good stuff can and does happen, driven by ambitious people connected to a larger purpose, and enabled in ways like never before thanks to technological advancement.
Take a look at the Harambee website and consider ways to get involved, as an individual or an employer. You can also direct young people who are unemployed to the mobi site. Who knows, perhaps this could be the seed of tackling tomorrow’s important stuff.
Harambee is an independent, not-for-profit social enterprise that works with individual businesses, government agencies, local and international donors, industry sector associations, youth-serving organisations, assessment specialists, behaviour change experts and technology providers. I visited them to see what they were doing, and this write-up was published by Talent Talks Africa where I am a regular columnist. You can view the first publish here.