Equipping youth with vital skills for the workplace

Vusi Jezi, founder of Karabo Training Academy.
Vusi Jezi, founder of Karabo Training Academy.
Image: Fetola.

What happens when millions of young people can’t find work? It’s a question South Africans may not want to think about, but with more than 20,4 million young people unemployed during the first quarter of 2020, according to Stats SA, they would do well to find an answer. 

The problem, according to Vusi Jezi, founder of Karabo Training Academy, isn’t just that South Africa’s youth lack skills.

Rather, it’s the fact that many are entirely ill equipped for the workplace, with the unfamiliar culture and etiquette creating challenges that many of their colleagues from more privileged backgrounds wouldn’t think about twice. 

“Consider, for example, that many of the people who complete our training programmes think that to create a CV, they can take one belonging to someone else and simply change the names,” Vusi says. 

 He established Karabo Training Academy in 2015 precisely to address misperceptions of this nature.

Although most of the academy’s students come from disadvantaged backgrounds, Vusi explains that many are young people who “want to get a foot in the door at a company” – they just don’t know how. 

The problem, he continues, is that although there are many laudable initiatives in place to facilitate skills development, they seldom focus on those competencies needed to address day-to-day stumbling blocks.  

 He cites one example: Karabo was called in to train kids at a school where the pass rate sat at a disastrous 33%. While improving this figure may seem like an impossible task, the solution was, in fact, remarkably simple.

Vusi and his team started by demonstrating to the students the importance of going to school, emphasizing the real-life benefits of an education.  

This is important, because it can be difficult for disadvantaged students, grappling with the realities of feeding their families in the here and now, to understand how a skill like long division can be of use to them in the future.  

 The Karabo team also worked to help students develop concrete skills that would help them land a job, such as communicating during an interview, and grew their understanding of office necessities such as dress code. The result? At the end of the intervention, the school’s pass rate had increased to 82%. 

Vusi is greatly heartened by successes like this. But, he says, it’s vital that students understand that their struggle doesn’t end once they have landed a job. In many ways, that’s just the start of the real trials.  

 “That’s why one arm of our programmes is dedicated to career development. We discuss this issue in its entirety, so that students understand that theirs is just one role in the job hunting process.

They will find themselves working with a recruitment officer who has been charged with a specific task; and we talk about why and how students can appeal to this individual.”  

When the team feels the student has a thorough grasp of job preparedness, they move onto the next level of development. At this stage, it is assumed that the student has clinched the job and is ready to move into the role.

This is when many young people come undone by stress, the difficulties of managing a heavy workload and the nuances of life in an office, so Karabo seeks to help them develop communication skills and build their confidence.  

This foundation in place, the team also teaches telephone and email etiquette, and works to help students manage stress with training in time management.

Often, this involves role playing that prompt them to think of appropriate responses to various situations. What should you do, for example, if your manager is angry with you? 

Beyond training people to handle relationships with the colleagues, Karabo also aims to develop their leadership skills. This is about helping them work as part of a team, and growing their understanding of what it means – and how – to take accountability.  

Anyone who has sat through an anxiety-provoking interview knows how stressful it can be to apply for a job – but, then again, trying to navigate a seemingly hostile workplace is possibly even more tricky.

With the right skills in place, Vusi insists, young people can rest assured that they can conquer both of these ordeals.