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The importance of employability

Published: Jun 16, 2021 7:00:00 AM South Africa Standard Time

When it comes to developing a strategy and effective approach to halting the increase in youth unemployment and contributing to turning it around, the Momentum Metropolitan Foundation (MMF), driven by the Board and the CSI team, has had to be deliberate about the way they show up in the space. And the starting point was the differentiation between a focus on employability versus employment. MMF’s focus is employability, defined by the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary as “the extent to which somebody has the skills, knowledge, attitude, etc. that make them suitable for paid work."

As MMF Board executive director, anthropologist and Innovation Consumer Insights Lead at Met Getup, Tasnim Alli, explains, “When there's a conversation around creating jobs, people rarely take into consideration that it's not just about jobs being available, but also about having people being able to fill those jobs. Our discussion as the MMF Board centred on ‘what does it actually mean to strategically invest in employability?’”

Bernadene de Clercq, non-executive director of MMF Board and professor in taxation at the College of Accounting Science, UNISA adds, “You could have a graduate who received the highest academic marks for whatever degree but struggles to sell himself in an interview and you could have someone who doesn’t have the academic qualifications but sells himself like a second-hand car salesman and gets the job.”

This is why, from an MMF perspective, de Clercq says, “It is about the ecosystem. It's not an either/or discussion. We've got a network of youth, non-profit organisations and the community employers. We need to work together for us to make any kind of difference.”

Plus, employability means both having skills that are transferrable and also being guided through the process, which both de Clercq and Alli understand on tangible level. For de Clercq, it is operating in a sector that is undergoing rapid change due to technology with tax practitioners that are not adapting to the new environment becoming redundant, and, for Alli, it is having started out as a personal assistant and worked her way up with the support of people along the way.

Within this landscape, one can’t take a purely quantitative approach to CSI and, as the Board did, you have to dig deeper into what success looks like. Alli says, “We asked what our intent is. Are we trying to get people trained and employed where they simply earn a salary? Is that salary enough? What about those who go through these training programmes and don’t get employed? What is the actual value to a person’s life? It’s easy to focus on the numbers, i.e., number of people trained, number of job placements, etc. but it isn’t enough. Also what does employment itself look like. If it is seasonal or erratic, it is employment, but it isn’t necessarily stable. For us to make a great change in South Africa, we need people earning a permanent stable income.”

This is where the qualitative side comes to play which can be murky because we are not simply adding up the numbers. The learning journey, the increased exposure and the support changes people, usually for the better. By learning something, we are automatically improved as human beings.

To be effective in the space, the MMF goes deeper than most when looking at who and where to support financially. When deciding on partners, in addition to the numbers, the foundation delves into the partner’s social footprint, their role and reputation within the community, the sustainability and transferability of the skills being provided, their ability to deliver on their promise, scalability, and even how much of their own resources they are investing.

De Clercq says, “We will even look at whether they are giving the learners a stipend and whether it is decent living stipend. They need to live while in training.”

The MMF expects an element of accountability from the partners but is also vested in ensuring that both sides can learn and maximise the partnership. The MMF and CSI unit have been developing improved monitoring systems which will provide the necessary data to determine where the gaps are and the effectiveness of the programmes in training youth to be employable.

To truly tackle what seems an impossible task, it requires a constant interrogation and addressing of the roots of the problem instead of the symptoms, and employability versus employment is critical to this. If the successes that MMF has had in the recent past are anything to go by, the foundation is definitely on the right track.

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