Youth unemployment has become one of the single most challenging aspects of South African society, according to Nedbank chief executive Mike Brown.
In the first quarter of 2019, Statistics South Africa released devastating figures on unemployment, showing that young people aged between 15 and 24 are the most vulnerable in the South African labour market with an unemployment rate of 55.2%.
“With youth unemployment at over 50% it is in the business’s best interest to ensure that it is doing the absolute most that it can to ensure that our society is successful,” said Brown.
He was speaking to Moneyweb on the sidelines of a visit to the operations of one of its Youth Employment Service (YES) partners, the Wildlands Conservation Trust – better known as WildTrust – an environmental non-profit organisation in KwaZulu-Natal.
“If you run a business in South Africa you need to think about the environment in which your business will operate in five years’ time,” said Brown.
“It is incredibly difficult for anyone to run a successful business in an unsuccessful society.”
Nedbank has made the biggest contribution to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s YES initiative, investing over R165 million to provide paid one-year internships for 3 315 young people. According to Nedbank’s 2018 audited results, this is estimated to translate into an annual cost equal to approximately 1.5% of net profit after tax of the South African business.
YES was launched in March 2018 and is a partnership between business, labour and civil society to generate at least one million paid work experience opportunities over the next three years.
WildTrust employs over 1 700 YES interns funded by Nedbank who have been placed in the organisation’s operations in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga.
For Brown, making the decision to partner with WildTrust was easy. “Nedbank is at the forefront of the green economy and conservation, and this is a confluence of a number of things including ensuring that youth are employed.”
The organisation is involved in various community based projects that involve waste management and recycling, environmental restoration, eco-tourism and small business development.
The interns who have been placed in the WildTrust programme are exposed to job opportunities within the green economy through work that has a direct impact on the coastal and inland communities they live in.
While the essence of the programme is to give unemployed young people a stepping stone to being ready for the labour market once they complete the year of work experience, the programme also provides some of the recruits with entrepreneurial training to equip them to start small businesses.
Sbongiseni Diedricks is based at the Wildlands Midmar recycling depot, where he works as a pyrolysis assistant. Pyrolysis involves using plastic waste to create fuel that is used to run some of the operations and fuel the fleet of trucks at the depot.
The depot also houses a brick manufacturing innovation that uses unrecyclable plastic and glass sand to produce green bricks.
At Durban’s harbour, a dedicated team of over 50 individuals under the YES programme clean the port. A number of rivers feed into the harbour, carrying industrial waste, human waste and refuse that is washed in from areas that do not receive adequate or any municipal services.
WildTrust CEO Andrew Venter told journalists the project’s vision is to ensure that in the next five to six years people can swim in the harbour without getting sick.
Nokonwaba Dlamini is a YES intern who works on the WildTrust Blue Port programme, where she assists with collecting waste around the harbour. For Dlamini the programme has been a wonderful experience that has broadened her outlook on the impact of waste. “I now understand the importance of recycling and also the importance of the ocean to us and the environment,” she said.
At the Nelson Mandela Capture Site in Howick, where Madiba was arrested in 1962, leading to his eventual incarceration on Robben Island, Anthia Ntsunguzi works as a chef assistant. “My salary has helped my child to go to school to get a formal education,” said Ntsunguzi.
On whether Nedbank would participate in the programme on the same scale next year, Brown said the bank would assess the success of its investment in the programme after reaching the 12-month mark and then consider renewing.
“It’s a great thing for South Africa in general, and we hope that Nedbank’s leadership approach here has encouraged more corporates to do this,” said Brown.
The author was hosted by Nedbank on a media tour to the WildTrust operations in KwaZulu-Natal.