Young people who take part into the Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI) need a focus on relevant and transferrable skills, workplace mentorship, contract periods and clear exist pathways. This is according to a report by Youth Capital. The advocacy campaign ran two online surveys; one with 2905 young people who took part into Phase One of the BEEI, and another one with some schools that hosted them. The report highlights the importance of these key factors when designing and implementing public programmes that can kickstart young people’s earning and economic activities.
“With 4 in 10 young people between the ages of 25 and 34 years old who are unemployed, it’s critical that we focus on how these programmes can act as launchpad for productive economic activities”, says Kristal Duncan-Williams, Project Lead at Youth Capital.
Young people’s lived experiences must be at the centre.
The BEEI is South Africa’s largest ever public employment programme. Funding for the BEEI amounted to R7 billion, and over R4 billion of this was used to create job opportunities for unemployed youth. ‘Given that public employment programmes are a large focus of the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention, there are lessons to be learnt from the BEEI that are relevant for the design of other (current or future) public employment programmes that seek to benefit young people, while also addressing the needs of their communities. This is critical now more than ever, with more than 4 in 10 young South Africans not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET)”, adds Duncan-Williams.
Why the Basic Education Employment Initiative matters.
In response to COVID-19’s impact on jobs and livelihoods, the Presidency launched the Presidential Employment Stimulus towards the end of 2020. Intended to be an augmentation of existing government commitments to employment creation, the Presidential Employment Stimulus was designed to support livelihoods while the labour market recovers: investing in public goods and services, enhancing skills and employability, and boosting demand in the economy at the same time. One of the initiatives of the Presidential Employment Stimulus is the BEEI, coordinated by the Department of Basic Education (DBE). The BEEI is South Africa’s largest ever public employment programme. Phase One of the BEEI employed 300 000 young people as General and Education Assistants, from December 2020 to April 2021. Phase Two employed 287 000 unemployed young people, from November 2021 to March 2022. In March 2022, DBE confirmed Phase Three from 1 April 2022, announcing that the youth appointed in schools as at 28 February 2022, would be offered new fixed term contracts commencing on 1 April 2022 until 30 August 2022. Youth Capital has now launched a new survey to evaluate Phase 2 of the programme.
‘Young people have spoken’: the findings of Youth Capital’s report.
It is clear from both the results of these surveys as well as conversations with schools, young people, and civil society organisations that the role of school assistants is beneficial – to both schools and young people. “With COVID-19 related delays in schools, and these young people could provide key support to ensure that learners are caught up with the curriculum and absenteeism is tracked”, says Duncan-Williams.
Youth Capital’s report highlights that to have a meaningful impact in addressing youth unemployment, school assistants programmes, and public employment programmes in general, need to create a pathway for young people to gain experience, skills, and social networks that will help them gain a meaningful foothold in the labour market.
In July 2021, the DBE released a closeout report for the first phase of the BEEI. Results from the DBE’s closeout report have been used in this report to inform conclusions drawn from the two surveys carried out by Youth Capital. The following recommendations are based on the findings of the surveys and the experience of civil society organisations that have an extensive understanding of facilitating and implementing school assistants programmes.
1. Training on relevant skills.
This is an area that has scope for significant improvement. Training received by young people in the BEEI programme differed from school to school, and the majority of this training did not appear to have a strong focus on transferable skills. The DBE’s closeout report states that basic orientation training was given to all assistants in a printed manual, and an electronic version was made available to teachers through the Teacher Connect platform. However, this platform was not referenced by anyone in either of our surveys. It is then not surprising that the DBE’s closeout report notes that only 50% of all assistants participated in this online training, as it appears there was a lack of awareness of the platform.
Training should be given prior to commencement of the position, and continued learning should be provided, even if through WhatsApp in a self-learning style.
2. Workplace Mentorship.
Mentorship should be a compulsory component of school assistants’ programmes. The role of the mentor and mentee should be clearly established at the beginning of the programme. “Social capital is an important resource that can help young people navigate the work environment; part of the purpose of school assistants programmes is to provide young people with real-world work experience. Thus, it is to be expected that participating youth need guidance, support, and mentorship to help them carry out their assistant role”, explains Duncan-Williams.
3. Contract period and exit pathways.
An insight from organisations that have experience in training and placing assistants in schools is that a contract period of one year is optimal to provide the necessary training to the assistants, and ensure that schools reap the most benefit for the time and money invested into each assistant on the programme. This insight is supported by the recommendations from schools who took part in the survey, who recommended that contracts should be longer than 3-4 months. “Instead of 3-4 month contracts, assistants should be contracted for a full school year. Moreover, programmes such as these need to have an exit strategy in place for participants”, adds Duncan-Williams.
Moreover, programmes such as these need to have an exit strategy in place for participants. Inferring from the DBE’s closeout report, an exit strategy was not a core component of the first phase of the BEEI: “The DBE is considering how the youth on the BEEI can be supported beyond their participation in the initiative. This forms part of the National Pathway Management Network (NPMN) through which the youth can be exposed to various learning, employment, or entrepreneurial opportunities.”
“If these types of programmes are designed to be short-term, then support and information should be provided to the beneficiaries, during the course of the programme, to equip them to navigate their next (post-programme) step in more informed ways than they would have had they not participated in the programme. Additionally, there needs to be a strategic approach to how this opportunity provides a meaningful exit pathway to those who participate”, explains Duncan-Williams.
“The key components of success highlighted in this report are relevant for any intervention that aims to create an entry point into the job market for young people who have little or no work experience. “Many young people lack the basic skills needed to succeed in the job market, and need training, mentorship, and guidance”, adds Duncan-Williams.
Furthermore, it makes sense to ensure the duration of a work experience opportunity is long enough to impart relevant transferable skills, and to ensure that the experience has real impact. Fortunately, there is already a wealth of experience in the sector. The design of these interventions should therefore build on existing best practices, in order to achieve maximum impact for all stakeholders.
About Youth Capital
Youth Capital is a youth-led advocacy campaign with an Action Plan to shift gears on youth unemployment in South Africa. Youth Capital’s vision is a society in which every young person has the skills, support, and opportunity to get their first decent job. In 2020, Youth Capital published Shift: An Action Plan to Tackle Youth Unemployment in South Africa. This Action Plan highlights leverage points that would improve outcomes for young people: supporting them in finishing their educational journey, supporting them in their transition into the world of work, and ensuring that existing employment initiatives and opportunities work for them.
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