As an organisation that champions health and social development, strengthening unemployed youth’s access to work readiness training and support, on-the-job training opportunities, and links to employment is an area that HIVSA is passionate about. South Africa has persistently high rates of youth unemployment with the official unemployment rate for youth aged 15-24 years currently pegged at 42,1% according to Statistics South Africa (2022). The ever-increasing rates of unemployment among youth has laid bare the vulnerability of youth's economic futures and further compromised their ability to thrive. In response to this, HIVSA has partnered with the Youth Employment Service (YES), a South African not-for-profit (NPO) whose primary objective is to identify and mobilize corporate enterprises to create work opportunities for youth by leveraging government’s existing programs like B-BBEE recognition for broad-based economic transformation. The HIVSA/YES joint initiative has resulted in several youths being placed within various HIVSA departments to gain twelve-months’ quality work experiences.
Our first cohort of 11 female youth were placed on the 1st June 2021. Many of these young women were previous beneficiaries of programmes implemented by HIVSA through Community- Based Organisations (CBOs). The youth were placed in different sections of the organisation that include programme implementation, monitoring, reporting, administration, finance, and human resource departments.
On the 28th of June 2022, the first cohort of the youth were invited to a “In Conversation with the CEO” session. The session gave youth a platform to share their experiences and to offer suggestions for improving future placements of youth at HIVSA.
For many of the youth, their placement at HIVSA was their first form of formal employment. HIVSA was appraised for its abilities to leverage its health and social interventions with economic strengthening programming to improve youth resilience and outcomes.
Having employment meant that they were recognised in their families as “contributors” not only from a financial point of view but also in making important decisions within their families.
The youth indicated that despite being from the very communities within which HIVSA programmes are implemented, they were not aware of the extreme poverty and hopelessness that exists in their communities. The opportunity to conduct home visits and meaningfully engage with families helped develop their understanding of the needs of vulnerable groups and their ability to empathise with the clients they visited.
For those youth that were placed to run specific interventions within the programme, they reported the difficulties experienced in discussing the topic of HIV with parents and caregivers of children living with HIV. This was also experienced in cases where the parents or caregivers themselves were living with HIV.
For HIVSA, supporting the employment of these women re-affirms our belief in community development being driven by the very individuals that live in those communities. It confirms that given the resources, capacity building and support, our most vulnerable can rise above their challenges and identify sustainable solutions to create a positive future for themselves and their communities.