The recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey results revealed that South African unemployment hit a 13-year high of 27.7% in the first quarter of 2017, as the economy failed to keep up with the number of South Africans entering the market. Yet, according to Adcorp, 829 800 positions for highly skilled workers in our country remain unfilled. There is clearly a worrying gap between the jobs that are available and the acumen and skills needed for these jobs.

South Africa’s unemployment crisis is particularly acute for our youth, as inadequate educational opportunities and insufficient experience make them less attractive candidates. It is not surprising, then, that the Quarterly Labour Force Survey found that 65% of our unemployed citizens are younger than 25.

“As we know, the issue of youth unemployment in South Africa is one that urgently needs to be addressed,” notes Elena Coetzee, Capability Manager for Sales and Brand at Procter and Gamble (P&G). “One aspect of this is ensuring that we have programmes within our corporates that help young people to develop business acumen through practical work experience. In this way, we can focus both on bridging South Africa’s skills gap and on training our youth. This is one of the reasons why P&G started the P&G Business Administration Learnership initiative three years ago.”

The company’s learnership programme recruits previously disadvantaged youths, who have either passed matric or have a tertiary qualification, for a set period of time. The programme entails practical experiential training at P&G’s head office and plant, along with formal coursework in the arenas of accountancy, finance, marketing, business studies and economics. This aspect of the learnership is provided in partnership with Progression South Africa. Once the individuals have successfully completed their learnership, they are awarded with an NQF-registered qualification.

While P&G is one of many companies that have implemented learnership programmes, the company has taken steps to ensure that the experience not only benefits the learners, but also adds value to P&G. This includes ensuring that the learners have mentors, are given meaningful work responsibilities, and are completely integrated into teams and into the organisation.

Monde Mthimkhulu, who is in the second year of his P&G learnership, believes he has benefited most from P&G’s inclusive approach. “The work we, the learners, are given is meaningful and geared specifically towards helping us gain skills in certain arenas. We are not just junior employees who are tasked with insignificant jobs. I know I am a member of the P&G team and I feel appreciated.”

Coetzee notes that the learnerships are not only valuable for the learners, but also reap significant rewards for P&G and its employees. “Essentially, the P&G Business Administration Learnership programme helps us to secure the future of our industry. By ensuring these young people develop the competencies that our industry needs to thrive, we are able to help prevent future skills gaps. Because the learners are valued team members, they bring unique insights and unexpected connections into projects, which enables innovation.”

Coetzee maintains that for the P&G employees who serve as mentors to the learners, the experience helps to keep them inspired as they hone their training abilities, refine their skills and knowledge, and gain different perspectives from the learners.

The P&G learnership programme reflects the company’s global commitment to diversity and inclusion. “The people who use our products every day are as diverse as the world is diverse – and the more we reflect them, the better we understand and serve them. We believe the game-changer is when we are fully inclusive – When everyone feels valued and everyone is included, people perform at their peak, which results in better collaboration, better innovation, and better connections to the consumers we’re trying to serve.,” adds Coetzee.

Mthimkhulu is looking forward to learning even more about business from P&G in the coming months of his learnership and finding out where his greatest talents lie. “Being part of an organisation that is rooted in transforming young people’s experiences inspires us as the youth to, in return, contribute innovatively to the company. As I acquire new skills, I am able to be more productive, which means that I am helping to grow our country, even if it is in a small way.”