South African youth’s fighting spirit prevails against unemployment

Unemployment directly impacts over 4,7 million individuals between the ages of 15 – 34 years old – there is no doubt that youth employment remains a critical challenge. Compounding this challenge is also the reality that young females often display heightened vulnerability in the labour market when compared to their young male counterparts.

Yet, amidst the struggles, stories of hope and transformation emerge, proving that with perseverance and a little support, significant change is possible.

One of those stories is that of a young woman from the village of Madombidzha in Limpopo, whose journey from unemployment to a thriving career is a testament to the power of resilience and opportunity.

Growing up in a community where opportunities were scarce and most of the youth is unemployed, Phathu Ngwana faced numerous hardships. Despite her hard work and determination, as well as completing a bachelor’s degree in Life Sciences majoring in biochemistry and microbiology, she struggled to find employment in her field – a story that mirrors that of so many South African youths.

And so, in 2019 she made a transition from Limpopo to Gauteng, hoping for a break and willing to take any job. However, when online job applications in her field continued to prove fruitless along with dropping her CV door-to-door and internship opportunities dried up with none resulting in permanent employment, Phathu then decided to take to the streets to market herself. Standing in a busy intersection in the middle of winter with nothing but a board of her qualifications and a smile, Phathu’s life took a turn when she encountered Mduduzi Mthanti, IT operations manager at Investec.

Recognising her potential, he invited her to apply for the Investec End User Services IT Learnership – a practical training and internship opportunity that bridges the gap between education and employment. The learnership not only creates a pipeline for females in technology but retains 90% of the candidates that come through the programme.

This was the opportunity and support Phathu needed and became a pivotal point in transforming her prospects. She embraced every opportunity, learning new skills and proving her worth, all of which culminated in her being offered a full-time position within Investec.

Today, Phathu is a successful professional, contributing not only to her own well-being and that of her family back home, but she has also inspired many others in her community, motivating her younger siblings to work hard at school.

“I wanted to be the one person that rescued my family from their poverty. Being unemployed is hard and you don’t understand until you are out there looking for opportunities. However, I was determined to empower myself and continue learning. We are creators of our futures and my advice to those looking to get their foot in the door is to reject the negative narratives, dare to fight for your future and seize the opportunities that come your way. Change filters down. Grit and determination could change your life, just like it did mine.”

Phathu’s story not only highlights the profound impact of corporate involvement in addressing youth unemployment, but the need for a broader focus on this market segment. When companies invest in young talent, through training and mentorship programs, they do more than just fill vacancies – they provide a beacon of hope.  Change is possible, even if it’s just one step at a time, but these steps could nurture the future leaders of the nation.