Harambee Giving hope to youth

The youth rules at Harambee. Some 50 000 of them countrywide have found employment opportunities over the past seven years through the work of this non-profit company.

The gentle hum of activity in the open-plan offices of Harambee in downtown Johannesburg is a sign of a happy place. What started on one floor of an office at 70 Fox Street is now a business spread over three large floors.

Harambee focuses on helping youth between the ages of 18 and 34 access opportunities. Where they would struggle to find jobs because of their lack of networks and know-how, Harambee is linking them to private and public sector opportunities, while encouraging budding entrepreneurs.

This programme is giving hope to young people who would not otherwise know where to start in finding a job. Harambee’s target is to help get 500 000 young people into work opportunities between now and 2022.

Harambee started in 2011, with five founding employers and 40 youngsters. It now employs over 400 people nationwide, and has a network of over 450 employers – from large corporates to SMMEs – who look to it to provide young blood for their companies.

Those jobs are being created in all industries – retail, hospitality, engineering, financial services, insurance, tourism, information technology, logistics, and manufacturing. Some of the candidates come to Harambee with an N2 qualification from a Technical Vocation Education and Training College or TVET colleges, and are directed towards the installation, repair and maintenance sector.

All candidates – two-thirds of whom are women – are given a psychometric test to ascertain where their talents lie, then they are channelled in the appropriate direction. The offer work readiness programmes, some of which take up to eight weeks, and Harambee does follow-ups to check on workplace progress.

And the retention rate of those placed is impressive: 85% in engineering and manufacturing and banking; 70% in retail and hospitality; and 65% in insurance.

Mandy Levani, a client services manager at Harambee, says: “We look at attitude, how well-spoken they are, their willingness to learn, their punctuality and attendance. In some cases we have to teach basic computer skills. But we are looking for candidates who are hungry to work.”

She says candidates are given a stipend to attend the programme, largely to cover their transport costs. “We try to eliminate barriers. We have psychologists here to help them problem solve, and find out what might prevent them from succeeding in a work environment.”

Some of that involves teaching candidates about the consequences of being late for a shift, and how that may impact on others; or how to deal with a difficult employer; or to be a self-starter; or to identify people within an organisation they can approach with problems or challenges.

Harambee, a Swahili word meaning “pulling together”, invites potential employers to work readiness programmes, to meet and interact with candidates. “What they are looking for are candidates with potential, not work experience or qualifications necessarily,” she explains.

Debbie Donaldson, a placement consultant, says of the candidates from Harambee: “They are curious, focused, open to developing their careers, and much more employable.”

Thirty-year-old Bright Mhlongo works as a trainee adjuster for Cunningham Lindsey, a claims management company. He says his training at Harambee not only prepared him for work but also taught him good habits to use in his personal life, such as health awareness.

Harambee is funded through employer placement fees. Government matches every R1 with an equal amount.

“It is beautiful to see them grow, we are so proud of them,” says Levani with a smile.

Harambee has a partnership with the Johannesburg Inner City Partnership (JICP) and other city initiatives, in a collaboration which offers it access to companies in the inner city, says Sylvester Moepya, senior manager: private/public relationships at Harambee. Moepya, who is on the board of the JICP, stresses that they are working with their partners as an employment accelerator for inclusive growth, for the youth, and for the city.

To apply to Harambee go to www.harambee.mobi