One key sector didn’t only buck the trend of job losses during the pandemic – it actually created jobs, primarily for young people. Kasthuri Soni, CEO Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator and Reshni Singh, CEO BPESA, explain how.

We too often think of resilience as something that individuals have, but rarely stop to consider resilience in relation to organisations and the sectors in which they operate, who must also be able to consistently adapt and change, to bounce back from adversity to survive hardship and crisis.

Although we know of many organisations that did not survive the pandemic, analysis by Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator reveals that very few sectors, if any, have been able to return to pre-pandemic levels of employment, and certainly not to levels before the 2008 financial crisis.

One sector that bucks this trend is the South African Global Business Services (GBS) sector, which during and despite the pandemic, created more than 50 000 cumulative new jobs, the majority of which were for young people.

This didn’t happen by accident; it is the direct result of focused and intentional collaboration between BPESA – the industry body representing GBS companies in South Africa, government, employers and social partners.

Recognised by our government as one of the country’s priority sectors that can help lead economic recovery, BPESA has developed an industry master plan framework with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (dtic), Harambee and other players in the sector that aims to create between 250 000 and 500 000 new net jobs by 2030.

This means we need a pipeline of talented young people ready to be absorbed into these in-demand jobs. For this, we’ve developed an integrated approach to skills development that includes reskilling and cross-skilling our youth to provide them with the tools they need to access these opportunities.

How it was done

Absa conceptualised and curated the cross-skilling project and funded its implementation which gave birth to the partnership with Harambee and BPESA, that sees young South Africans from the hospitality industry being cross-skilled for work in the GBS sector. Having lost their jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector that was decimated by the Covid-19 pandemic, these youth have been reskilled for new working opportunities with GBS employers in administration and support roles, as team leaders and quality assurers, and for sales and collections.

Two hundred affected young people from Absa’s Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB) hospitality clients were encouraged to register on the free-to-use platform, which provides accessible entry-level opportunities for young people, helps them to build their employability profiles and match to jobs. The mobi-site draws on a decade worth of Harambee’s evidence on how to break barriers that young people face in accessing employment. In turn, BPESA’s members listed their available job opportunities on Since September 2021, 368 young people – 74% female – have found new jobs in the GBS sector across Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and Western and Eastern Cape. 

One such person is 29-year-old mother of two Sandisiwe Mboxo, who lives in Mdantsane, just outside East London. She was previously a waitress at the Convention Centre and a cashier for a community-based fast-food restaurant but is now a sales consultant for an insurance company and reports that this opportunity has helped her grow as a person.

“I know more; I have better experience in the sales consultant industry and have skills that have improved my customer service and knowledge of the insurance industry,” she says.

The cross-skilling initiative has created jobs which bring in over R3.5 million in salaries per quarter. With an average household of 3.3 people in South Africa, this partnership has empowered 368 young people and positively impacted the lives of an additional 1 284 people from their families and communities.

The cross-skilling project is an example of how sector-level coordination allows industries to organise themselves into engines of inclusive growth by harnessing the mutual interests of all players. It is also a model that can be replicated in what we call ‘sunrise’ sectors that have the potential to grow and employ large numbers of entry-level labour, giving them the ability to generate the volume and type of jobs required to absorb young people at scale. These sectors include financial, business and community services, and increasingly the agricultural sector.

It is also a reminder, this Youth Month, that by finding where resilience occurs across sectors and backing initiatives, ideas, employers and young people with intentional thought, investment, and support, resilience itself can drive an economic bounce back to recovery.

Source: Published 15 June 2022. 

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