Businesses which employ and help young people to acquire literacy and numeracy skills will be building a better country.
It’s said that the future of any country lies in its youth. But young people can’t do it on their own – they need to be given opportunities to learn the necessary skills that will enable them to build careers for themselves and become productive, responsible members of society. And employers are ideally placed to play a role in giving them such learning opportunities.
As an employer, when I looked at the training we were doing in our company, I thought, “We actually have to do something better than this.”
The challenge was that people couldn’t communicate and understand basic Mathematics. It doesn’t matter what job you do or what your career aspirations are, if you can’t communicate, you can’t sell yourself, you can’t study to do other work, and you can’t develop and grow yourself. If you can’t read and write, you can’t understand what is written on a piece of paper. Also, in the next job you go to – it doesn’t matter what you do, it could be marketing, public relations, accounting or administration work – you’ve got to answer the phone and understand numbers that are in front of you.
We were doing ABET training where we were training on the different levels of numeracy and English communication, to get people up to different levels. And we didn’t just do it for one year. We actually did it for a couple of years. And then, when we had our BEE audits, I started getting feedback from the agencies that we’re doing the incorrect training.
I said, “But half the time, we’re doing the incorrect training for our sector – the ICT sector. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, you must understand communication and numeracy. And I’m not going to change the way we are doing this just because the ICT sector says our people must learn COBOL”
I decided that we must find a way to work around this as I believe that we’re training people and offering them an opportunity to get into the growth market. Although unemployment is sitting at around 54%, the Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment policy does not cater for us to develop and grow people in the country.
Although we were obliged to add a “Basic Introduction to Computers” programme into our coursework, I believed that we were doing a good thing by training people how to communicate and how to read numbers.
If we want to train people to get into the ICT sector, it’s obvious that we’ll have to start from the bottom. If we’re going to employ youngsters who never got the opportunity to go to school, how are they going to communicate in English and Maths?
Basic Maths literacy can get people anywhere in the world. It can teach them about any technology that emerges in the world. Once they’ve got that basic Maths, they can always do another bridging course.
Give and you’ll get
My belief is that, if you can’t give back, how can you expect to receive? We therefore need more businesses to take on youngsters who have no formal education or no formal tertiary education, and see it as our duty to teach, train and develop them.
Employing trainees actually costs the business very little, but they get paid a salary and get an education.
Imagine if all companies did this, from the biggest corporate to the smallest business. But people want to keep everything for themselves. They’re scared that the next person is going to take their livelihood from them. They believe that there isn’t enough to go around to be able to share the wealth.
It’s actually about changing people’s views on ticking a box and keeping things to themselves.
It’s important to tick boxes in some cases, but you might as well tick that box and do the right thing at the same time. And it’s not costing you any money.
You have to have the heart for this – to be human to want to change things like this. And it doesn’t take that much effort, you just have to want to do it. That is the important part – to want to change things and want to make a difference.
It’s about making a change not because you want something from it, but because you feel the need to give back. If everyone started to see this, imagine the South Africa that will emerge!
If, within the next year, just three HR Managers in South Africa were to catch this vision, it would probably change about 40 learners’ lives for ever, not to mention the lives of their family members.
All we need to do is accept that we need to take responsibility for the reality we have in South Africa. If we’re going to sit and wait for government to change things, we’re going to sit and wait for ever. So the business community needs to create change. And, if we want business to change, we need to change. We need to give something back rather than engage in a “tick a box” exercise and then move on.
And once we’ve given them a chance, whatever these young people learn or want to do, whether it’s go to another company or start their own business, they need to be cheered on because we’ve made a difference in their lives!