In any country in the world, that goal would be a massive undertaking. In South Africa, the problem takes on a stickiness and complexity given the historic underinvestment and neglect faced by communities with high unemployment rates. Our country battles the highest youth unemployment statistic in the world. With more than six million people between the ages of 18 and 34  excluded from the economy as they struggle to find a job. This reflects not only a struggling economy but a deep social scarring and the real and lingering effects of apartheid.


In our country, one million new job opportunities is a call for hope. It’s a call for drastic change in approaches to business and collaboration towards impact on an unprecedented scale. So, when President Cyril Ramaphosa introduced Youth Employment Service (YES) and tasked it with this ambitious mandate, he was not just setting a numeric goal. He was calling for a nation-wide mindset shift towards inclusive growth, because that’s what it will take to achieve this.


Together with partners in the private sector and NGO space, the YES team has spent the past year actively building new ways to create new jobs, in new places. By leveraging innovative channels, technology, new collaborations, unlocking job rich value chains in neglected but high potential parts of the country, and by inviting all companies and individuals to join us on this journey, we’re starting to make inroads. And as we together with a host of partners bring online new SMMES in future value chains such as green energy, urban farming with hydroponics technology and other fourth industrial 21st century opportunity spaces, the possibilities start to become endless.

YES works against a backdrop of supportive policy that was evolved in a unique partnership between key role players. The idea for YES came from the private sector, was mandated by government, and now policy makers have evolved policy to support and incentivise it within the private sector.  YES legislation, published this year by the dti, aligns with the B-BBEE Codes of Good practice: Companies that implement YES and reach prescribed targets can move up an entire level on their BBBEE scorecard. So, not only is there a social imperative for driving down youth unemployment in South Africa, there’s now also an immediate business incentive to do so as well.


As YES enters a phase of accelerated growth, we call for the collaboration of corporate partners. They’re an integral part of the solution: we need them to help provide placements for youth work opportunities, technology and knowledge support and funding to grow the infrastructure to support the programme. In only three months of YES’s official operation, over 250 companies have already joined the movement to help change lives, one year at a time. Through these companies, we’ve already found placements for 4600 youth into high quality one-year work experiences with over 1500 already placed in market.


We’ve embarked on significant partnerships with inspiring partners, that are providing everything from research and guidance around best practice, to exposure to jobmakers for our youth, to new digital phone-based gaming tools that help us identify strengths, weaknesses and good job fit for our youth without requiring formal qualifications or a traditional interview.

At the same time, with the help of partners, we’re equipping our YES youth with cutting edge smart phones that have 27 work readiness training modules, a system of nurture and support for youth assisting in work place behaviour, building growth mindset and confidence and improving the quality of the placement for the youth and employer.

There’s one common theme running through each of the successes we’ve enjoyed so far: collaboration. Constructive and meaningful partnerships help us edge closer to the lofty goal of one million work opportunities.


That number will be simply impossible to achieve without the minds of the collective. But together, working in new ways and supported by newly-expanded policy, we can open up youth pathways into economic integration. That can change the future of our economy.


Now is the time to join us. We say: If not us, then who? If not now, then when?


Dr Tashmia Ismail-Saville is the CEO of Youth Employment Service in South Africa.