World Youth Skills Day on Thursday, 15 July aims to highlight the opportunities and challenges that confront young people in employment around the globe. Here in South Africa, the staggering youth unemployment rate of 46.3%* emphasises the enormous competition that a young school leaver faces when looking for a job.
Even getting an interview is challenging when there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of candidates applying for a single position. Therefore, having the basic skills that experienced job-hunters take for granted – navigating and using online job portals; putting together a stand-out CV; knowing how to apply for an advertised vacancy; being able to present yourself properly in an interview situation – are vital. So is having access to internships, mentors and opportunities to network.
With these shortcomings in mind, especially for matriculants from underserved communities, the Kay Mason Foundation (KMF) is launching its Catapult Career programme. A virtual and in-person programme that aims to improve the job-readiness of South Africa’s youth by giving them the skills and opportunities they need to secure their first job.
According to Lauren Bright, CEO of the Kay Mason Foundation, the focus by national government and many non-profit organisations (NPOs) on getting young people to successfully complete their schooling often neglect the critical next step; finding meaningful employment in the face of numerous challenges .
For candidates from a disadvantaged background, whose family support structure may be unable to provide guidance, the problem is even more pronounced. Getting expert guidance to help these students ‘sell’ themselves’ to employers, to network effectively, and to link with appropriate mentors may be the difference between enjoying a successful career or forever being on the fringes of the job market.
“Completing matric doesn’t necessarily equate to job readiness,” says Bright. “The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. Many students couldn’t take advantage of online learning for economic reasons and others couldn’t easily adapt to the transition from the classroom to online.”
Guidance and support cannot end after Year 12
Since 1999 KMF has provided schooling, and social development support to underserved young people through their scholarship programme. The programme gives learners a solid foundation, however, Bright emphasises that guidance and support cannot end the moment a scholar completes Year 12.
“There are so many challenges today’s youth face. There’s a digital divide to consider, financial difficulties, and emotional strain caused by our young people facing a disproportionately more uncertain future than their predecessors.
“Ensuring they get on the first rung of the job ladder and go on to be successful adults means we also have to expose them to the right mentors, experiences, and support,” she explains.
To achieve this, the KMF’s Catapult programme will target Grade 12 learners, as well as those in Grade 11 who know what career path they would like to follow. The programme will provide a range of workshops to prepare them for the job application process, and will cover such topics as:
- How to adapt your CV per application
- Creating a CV with templates
- How to write an effective cover letter
- How to apply for a job
- How to present yourself in an interview (including how to dress and answer interview questions)
- How to explore different alternatives (For example, if you don’t get a job related to what you are interested/qualified in, how do you reposition it for something else)
The important role of the mentor for school leavers
A key part of the Catapult Career curriculum is to prepare participants for the world of work by helping them link up with mentors in their chosen field. These would be experts who have already walked the same career path and can give guidance, transfer their skills, and help scholars to connect with other individuals and organisations in that field.
“There is no better way to provide a scholar with the confidence and know-how to pursue their dream than to link them with a mentor who can give them the nurturing and encouragement they need,” says Bright.
“The mentor will share valuable tips and tools, plus expose the learner to job shadow and internship opportunities. Where possible they will link the scholar up to support partners and networks that can aid their career journey.”