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OPPORTUNITIES: Helping youth get one foot in the workplace

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close up cropped portrait of positive youth putting arms together

The COVID-19 pandemic and its dire economic effects have had a significant impact on employment opportunities for young people. Even prior to the pandemic, hopeful graduates and matriculants wait for months and even years to secure employment opportunities.

South Africa’s unemployment rate stands at 34.4%, the highest rate in the history of the Quarterly Labour Force Survey. Among the 7.8-million unemployed persons in SA, about 38% have completed grade 12 and 2.4% are tertiary graduates. To help young people get one foot in the door, the private and public sectors have the responsibility to invest in the youth and create opportunities that will allow them to gain experience and prepare them for the highly competitive workplace.

Backing unemployed youth

The ICT sector is an ever-growing sector that requires an array of advanced skills and knowledge. The shortage of skills in the sector can be addressed through empowering the younger population and equipping them with skills and knowledge to successfully thrive.

As the leading open access provider in SA, Openserve offers internship and learnership programmes to provide young people with experience and skills across the organisation’s departments. Matriculants and graduates are provided with the opportunity to work in different areas including information technology, project management, marketing, etc. As an organisation, Openserve has identified a predominant need for more skills in the electrical engineering and IT areas of the business. Internship and learnership programmes are generally advertised on the company’s website or filled through partnerships with tertiary institutions and the Department of Labour.

Over 900 youth have obtained relevant and practical work experience through the internship and learnership programmes over the past five years, with an Openserve investment in excess of R80-million. Almost a third of these learners and interns have been employed permanently in the business. For the current financial year, Openserve will be developing an additional 100 learners and interns through its 24-month learnership and internship programmes.

Whilst Openserve’s learnership and internship programmes assist in providing practical and relevant skills development opportunities to our youth, therefore contributing to youth development, and enhancing their prospects of employment, the programmes also assist Openserve in creating a young talent pipeline thereby pre-empting any talent challenges.  The learners and interns further bring in fresh perspective and ideas which are welcomed by the business.

Openserve Acting Chief Human Resources Officer Justin Hughes says “The ICT sector is currently in a constant flux of change. The pressures brought on the sector by COVID-19 and the realignment of business models to move from a centrally based office to remote work locations requires rapid deployment of appropriate technologies. It is critical that as a business we remain agile in not only our operations but in our thinking. SA’s youth are key role players in creating and maintaining this agility. With their openness to change, their tech-savvy ability and courage to embrace new techniques, our youth are a strategic component in taking our business, and the country forward.”

Through the internship programme, Openserve provides graduates with an opportunity to acquire practical work experience that will fully prepare them for future full-time employment. Through these programmes, interns gain at least two years of experience in the ICT sector, which will enable them to pursue more opportunities.

For learners who have completed high school, Openserve offers the Telecommunications Network Operations Learnership programme, a 24-month programme that is accredited through MICT SETA.  Through this learnership, the participants obtain a NQF level 4 certification that is accredited and recognised.

In addition to the comprehensive and sustainable learnership and internship programmes, Openserve contributes to youth development through the Centre of Excellence (CoE) programme. This programme is two-pronged with a contribution being made towards research funding at tertiary institutions, while providing an opportunity to deserving students to be awarded bursaries for postgraduate studies. The CoE programme framework ensures that there is continuous research in the fields of Electrical Engineering, Computer Engineering, IT and Computer Science. On completion of their studies, CoE graduates are then employed at Openserve.

“The graduates are placed on a CoE development track and our investment, both time and financial, therefore continues through their employment. The programme also advances new research into the ICT sector,” Hughes says.

Empowering the youth

The world of telecommunications has evolved immensely over the last decade as the world becomes more digital. To adapt to this change, the ICT sector needs agile thinkers and creative minds who can contribute knowledge, skills and new ideas. While the need for skills varies for each area of the business, potential employees need to have strong customer service orientation as well as communication skills and problem-solving ability.

Hughes says “The future of any business lies in being able to ensure that there is a sustainable supply of competent and capable resources. This is where a partnership between the experienced employee and youth unlock potential. Being able to create a pathway where younger members of society can learn and improve practices of the past is vital to the existence of any organisation. While I realise that there are ongoing economic pressures across industries, not only in SA but globally, we do have a social and moral obligation to empower our youth.”

“Any development opportunities for the youth should be viewed as a contribution to the broader ICT sector, to grow and develop our talent and not merely contained to one organisation. This is where private and public partnerships play a role. I firmly believe that for any business sector to thrive and survive in today’s world, investment in our youth becomes a business imperative.”

Openserve is committed to building a talent pool of young people who will make their mark in the sector by equipping them with necessary tools that will help them to successfully navigate the industry and contribute to SA’s economic prosperity.

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