YES brings the youth agenda to Branson’s ‘Business is an Adventure’

Futurist Faith Popcorn; Dr Marc Kahn, Global Head of HR & OD at Investec Group; lawyer and activist Thando Hopa; Sir Richard Branson; Claire Mawisa, investigative journalist and moderator; and Dr Tashmia Ismail-Saville, CEO of Youth Employment Service.

Johannesburg, 11 November 2019

Diversity and inclusion are no longer ‘nice-to-haves’, nor should they be a scorecard ticking exercise, because it is now clear: the more inclusive an organisation is, the more successful it will be.

That was the message from the CEO of South Africa’s Youth Employment Service, Dr Tashmia Ismail-Saville, at the “Business is an Adventure” event in Johannesburg on Thursday, 7 November 2019. Dr Ismail-Saville participated in a panel discussion on diversity in business alongside futurist Faith Popcorn, South African lawyer and activist Thando Hopa, and Dr Marc Kahn, the Global Head of HR & OD at Investec Group. As a live broadcast, the event commanded an audience of over 700 business leaders.

Over a third of South Africa’s youth population – 6.7 million young people – currently find themselves completely locked out of the jobs market, Dr Ismail-Saville said. “An unemployed person costs the country R1.2 million over a lifetime. If we don’t get these young people into the workplace, it will cost us R7.9 trillion as a country.”

But she, and other panel members, pointed out the benefits to business, in addition to society, of doing so. The diverse viewpoints and backgrounds that youth bring, allow companies to get closer to their bases, and “design solutions for real customers, customers who now, more than ever, wield bottom-up power,” Ismail-Saville said. “The recent Bank of America study, for instance, has shown us that gender inclusivity can build business benefit. The more open you are to wider thought and acceptance, and giving it voice, the more competitive you will be. It’s quite simple: diversity of background, geographic origin, race and age just make business work better.”

Dr Ismail-Saville also quoted a study undertaken by the Indian multinational, Tata, in which underprivileged young slum-dwellers were tested alongside European MBA students on aptitude for achievement against a variety of indicators like entrepreneurship, innovation and STEM subjects. The applicants from low-income communities matched and, in some cases, exceeded the results for MBA entrants. “So, there’s this massive potential sitting in our 6.7 million unemployed young people,” she said, “and the Youth Employment Service is here to help business unlock that and bring them into the world of work.”

The Youth Employment Service (YES) is a business-led collaboration with government and labour to create work opportunities for South Africa’s unemployed youth. Thus far in 2019, YES has secured one-year work experience placements for over 27,000 young South Africans, of which more than 60% are women. These participants will emerge from their work experience year, having got their hands dirty in a myriad of pursuits, but also with the ability to profile and market themselves, including through a reference letter and CV integrated into the world’s most active recruitment site: LinkedIn. Research indicates that this alone increases the opportunity for gainful employment threefold.

For the duration of their work experience, participants also access digital content tailored to improve their work readiness and overall effectiveness according to global best practice. This, as well as the reporting and feedback platform, are housed on YES apps on smartphones provided to them as part of the programme.

The impact of more than 27,000 jobs created through the YES model has so far positively contributed over R1 billion to the local economy.

Established in 2016, “Business is an Adventure” is a thought leadership event series led by Sir Richard Branson that has been presented around the world in cities such as Los Angeles, Washington DC, Denver, Tel Aviv and Barbados. It gathers some of the best thinkers in each country to inspire business audiences about taking greater, bolder leaps: a perfect fit in this case, because as Ismail-Saville put it: “Just say ‘YES’, take on your quota of youth and change their lives… but also our society, and — very probably — even your business!”

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