Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Employment/education opportunities for particularly vulnerable groups | 18 January, 2013 - 20:26← BACK
Beautiful Gate South Africa, situated in Lower Crossroads on the outskirts of Cape Town, is an interdenominational Christian organisation providing care and support to vulnerable children and families. We believe that the best place for each child is within a family, and that the best way to support families is to enable their community to provide support. Here we aim to restore the capacity of the community and of families to care for their children. In order to empower families we have created a Resource Centre aimed at linking the community youth and adults to opportunities.
According to Statistics SA, 4,7 million people were unemployed in the 3rd quarter of 2012, the highest level since 2008. Of the approximately 4,7 million persons looking for work, 3,1 million (or 67,1%) have been looking for work for a period of 1 year or longer. The youth (15-34 years) accounts for the highest proportion (70,9%) of the unemployed, making the unemployment rate among the youth 36,1%. Furthermore, 31,4% or 3,3 million of the youth aged 15-24 years are not in employment, education or training and can thus be regarded as idle youth. The community of Lower Crossroads in Ward 35 of the Western Cape, where Beautiful Gate is situated, reflects these national statistics and it is this growing need that Beautiful Gate seeks to address through its work.
During 2009 we conducted strategic planning with our beneficiaries, which included consulting with families, teenagers, church leaders and community members. During this process, it became clear that while information services exist, it was difficult to access these services from this community. The community expressed a need for information to be provided in Lower Crossroads, rather than having to travel ‘to the mountain’ (i.e. institutions in the City ) to get much needed information on job opportunities, study opportunities, career guidance and access to the internet at great cost in terms of time and money.
Because of this lack of information, the community also expressed feelings of remaining marginalised, and a sense of hopelessness, which can result as unemployment levels remain high over extended periods of time. Recently published research has described this multi-generational unemployment as a reason why more youth were "becoming increasingly resigned to never finding a job". However, these expressed needs are also countered by a growing sense of entitlement amongst youth in South Africa and elements of a dependency culture where community members look to government to solve their problems.
Following this process of beneficiary and stakeholder engagement, Beautiful Gate further developed the idea of creating a self-help centre, the Resource Centre. The centre was developed around a concept of self-help or self-improvement. A self-help group is formed by people with a common problem or situation, for the purpose of pooling resources, gathering information, and offering mutual support. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, potential benefits of self-help groups include friendship, emotional support, experiential knowledge, identity, meaningful roles, and a sense of belonging.
Beautiful Gate’s vision was to create a space where youth, primarily, can access the information and services they need close to where they live. Further to this, the centre was designed to encourage them to do things for themselves, to take the initiative and to help them empower themselves. While staff are employed at the Resource Centre, their mandate is not to do things for the users of the centre, but rather to teach, to show and to guide. Beautiful Gate sees its role as that of facilitator and mentor.
On 10th June 2010 the Resource Centre opened its doors offering the following services to learners, youth and community members:
Connection to Education and career guidance opportunities
Connection to Employment opportunities
The Resource Centre has two rooms, one with couches, tables and chairs for visitors to the Centre to read newspapers and other printed material, and to look at the Notice Board and to chat informally with staff and one another. The second room has 8 computers (soon to be upgraded to 15) with internet access and printing facilities. When using the Resource Centre beneficiaries agree to abide by policies, which include not abusing the use of the internet and focussing their time on seeking opportunities.
Since opening its doors in June 2010, Beautiful Gate has had around 17,000 visits to the centre.
As use of the centre has increased, the area being serviced is beginning to expand as ‘word of mouth’ referrals spread. Community members who have themselves been helped, refer others to the Resource Centre. Community members asked for the Resource Centre to open on Saturdays, and this year the days of operation increased from 4 to 5 days per week in response to their request (the Resource Centre is closed on Thursdays and Sundays).
We have experienced a sense of appreciation from members of the community, they are grateful for the services that are being provided, that these were in response to their needs and requests and are largely provided free of charge. They feel like they are being heard, there is a high level of trust of Beautiful Gate as an ‘organisation of choice’ in the community and as a place they can come to for support.
The Resource Centre is becoming a ‘safe’ place for people looking for opportunities. Here they meet others in the same or similar situation, and feel less alone. They build relationships with staff and feel they have someone to talk to. They hear stories of success and feel less hopeless.
Stories of Hope
Xola Dastile arrived in Lower Crossroads with a Diploma in Management from Walter Sisulu University in the Eastern Cape. He hoped to further his studies, but the course he wanted to take was full. He decided to look for a job and was connected to the Resource Centre by friends in the community. He attended a Skills Day and the job preparation workshop offered by Beautiful Gate and began looking for work through the resource centre. As a frequent user of the centre, he came to appreciate the services being offered,
“To me they were born to serve people” he said. In May this year, Xola asked if he could volunteer his time at the centre, and he has been coming mostly four days a week, where he has been especially helpful in working at the centre on Saturdays. Xola commented, “I have learned skills like working with different people that come to it with different things such as finding work through the internet. By attending the Careers Expo, with Beautiful Gate staff, I was able to learn more about my future career and job hunting skills.” Sonwabile Dwangu, Resource Centre Team Leader, added “it has been encouraging to see an unemployed graduate taking the initiative to volunteer and gain skills which will help him with his future career path.” Xola plans to continue his studies next year and has reapplied for the same course he wanted to do this year.
Kolisa Mandla, came to Cape Town from the Eastern Cape as a 7 year old boy, and started school at Andile Primary School in Nyanga. In 2006 he started high school at New Eisleben Secondary School, where he says “I heard about the Beautiful Gate organisation which acts as a guidance to further education and employment, therefore I visited it a couple of times and considered it useful in paving my way to access tertiary education. Since then, I created a consistent link between my school and Beautiful Gate, due to its major role in transforming initiatives around the community.” In 2010, Kolisa received his NS certificate and was accepted at the University of the Western Cape, Bachelor of Education. Kolisa, now 20 years old, said “I have attained this inspiration from Beautiful Gate and have learned that it is useful to be engaged in education. Currently I find myself progressing to my third year and willing to work hard to enrol in this program, and then after go directly to specialize in the field of education and be a qualified teacher.”
Because of the nature of poverty and unemployment in South Africa, most needs are not met once-off. While some community members may access employment through opportunities advertised at the Resource Centre, this employment may only be temporary and after a short period of time, the person may find themselves unemployed again. At other times, young people have successfully managed to enter into tertiary study, but have had to drop out due to a lack of funds. Another young person managed to access a bursary for tertiary study, but had to drop out because he was unable to cope with the academic demands. Many young people have been unemployed over a number of months, even years, and may be feeling a sense of hopelessness and a lack of motivation to keep looking. This means that the need is cyclic and individuals need to be dealt with where they are and their own specific journeys need to be considered. Information alone cannot support them, however, through relationships with staff and interaction with others using the Resource Centre, they feel less alone and hopeless.
A major difficulty has been proper tracking of individuals over time. A new monitoring and evaluation system, with revised indicators and tools, is currently being developed, however some historical information has been lost. Sometimes community members will come back to the centre to thank Beautiful Gate for the help they received and these stories are captured in feedback forms, however individuals will need to be more systematically tracked over time. The complexity of the problem addressed above makes it difficult to track ‘success’ and sometimes people may have successfully accessed opportunities, but may not still be in the same situation when information is requested. Record-keeping of interviews, feedback and follow up has not been satisfactory, while recording of attendance at the centre and services being accessed has been done consistently.
It has become evident that a number of Graduates (from University and FET colleges) remain unemployed, and there is a need to expand services to include a graduate development programme, which they can run themselves with support. The programme will assist them in developing their ‘soft skills’ such as communication, networking, self confidence/esteem, presentation skills, motivation and drive, etc. This, in turn, will make them more employable and help them market themselves.
Factors to enable ongoing success
In implementing our programme over the past two and a half years, we have identified the following factors that are critical for success and form part of the future planning for Beautiful Gate.
1. Finding and working with the right corporate social responsibility partners
In a news article published on their website, the Corporate Research Foundation (CRF) Institute South Africa noted that itself and Beautiful Gate South Africa are two organisations working at opposite ends of the employment spectrum in South Africa to give young people a greater chance of finding a job and gaining the skills and dignity they need to live more purposeful lives.
The CRF Institute, a global corporate research organisation that specialises in international projects for good employers, are empowering local youth by giving them some of the information and resources they need to find jobs. For several years now the CRF Institute has provided the resource centre with free copies of its publications (such as SA’s Leading Managers, Careers SA and Best Employers South Africa), with the help of logistics company, Courierit, as part of its social outreach activities. These publications are regularly used. “The information is easy to understand, and paints a clear picture of the possibilities on offer from companies in South Africa, and how best to access them. Useful information is rare in these areas, and it cannot be overstated how important it is” says Sonwabile Dwangu, the Resource Centre Team Leader. In addition to the CSI partnership with the CRF Institute, Beautiful Gate’s corporate sponsor, Tullow Oil, also provides magazines and books.
By finding and working with the right CSI partners the Resource Centre is able to offer quality, accurate and up to date information to its users
2. Linking participants/beneficiaries with job placement partners
Beautiful Gate’s mandate is to provide information and access to opportunities; it is not a job placement agency. However, recently, through a partnership with other NGOs and agencies, we have had been able to refer some of the users of our resource centre to these job placement agencies and they have been successful in securing employment. In planning for the future, while maintaining our philosophy of self-help, we do want to position our organisation closer to these agencies as this will enable us to connect our beneficiaries to more opportunities. The ability to access these opportunities and make the most of them, remain the responsibility of the individuals involved.
3. Linking participants/beneficiaries with skills development partners
The skills shortage has been identified as one of the biggest obstacles for government to reach its economic growth targets. It is commonly agreed that as a country we are not yet equipped with the skills we need to grow economically, and more importantly, to ensure the necessary employment growth so badly needed. To effectively address the vast skills shortages in the various sectors of our economy will require a coordinated effort between SETAs, Further Education and Training Centers (FETs), employers, and private skills development organisations. Beautiful Gate must ensure that it is positioned to contribute to this co-ordinated response.
Presently, we host an annual Skills Day, which is an opportunity for local youth who will not be studying and have no employment to find out about other ways to develop their skills, such as through the “School-to-Work programme” and Fit-to-Work programme” implemented by Etafeni. On completion of their programme, ‘graduates’ are linked to employment opportunities.
Through our partnership with Bridge for Hope, we can refer users to a Computer Course, which is presented over 8 weeks and provides users with an introductory Life Skills module and a SAQA accredited computer skills course both of which form a vital foundation for future job placements.
A new partnership with the Eziko Cooking and Catering Trust, will enable suitable candidates to be trained as chefs through a year long theoretical and practical course, with connections to employment in the hospitality industry provided on completion.
Recent research conducted by the University of Cape Town into why South African youth are in an unemployment crisis, stated that “Many would refuse jobs they did not consider ideal, rather than gaining work experience which would help them to secure such jobs later on.” To this end, Beautiful Gate has also established a partnership with the Volunteer Centre, where youth can gain valuable skills while volunteering their time to serve organisations. We believe that these skills and experiences will make youth more employable.
4. Engaging Centres of Higher Learning
Beautiful Gate has established direct relationships with Universities and FET colleges in the Western Cape to ensure up to date information, easy access to the application process and bursary application processes and appropriate places of study for the users of the Resource Centre. These institutions make themselves available to speak to young people at annual career days hosted by Beautiful Gate and keep Beautiful Gate staff informed about changes of policy or process.
In addition, Beautiful Gate is an active networker and participant at key events such as the Services SETA and Department of Labour skills symposium, thereby ensuring that it remains informed of and in a position to influence policy.
5. Sticking to the principle of development
While Beautiful Gate recognises the need for relief-oriented services (these do take place in other parts of the organisations service delivery) this is not the main focus of the Resource Centre. Relief-based interventions occur particularly in the area of orphans and vulnerable children with support services such as a Crisis Care centre for children in need of care or protection, medical support and food security support for vulnerable families awaiting grants, etc. However, as an organisation we wish to move people “up the ladder” of vulnerability. In other words, helping community members to progress from a state of vulnerability, requiring a high incidence of intervention and relief-based services to a state of empowerment; where the focus is on development, fair access to opportunities and pro-active decision making by the beneficiary themself. For this reason the Resource Centre has focussed on the “self-help” principle. While not-withstanding the attentive guidance and mentoring of Resource Centre staff, beneficiaries are encouraged to reclaim hope in their own potential and make their own decisions. This is a valuable and necessary step in entering the world of work, where expectations to self-manage and take initiative are sought after character skills.
Potential limiting factors
Despite these key factors which can enable ongoing future success, we also acknowledge certain factors which have the potential to limit our success.
1. Expectations of university entrance
There is a societal expectation that the only employable and successful people are those with university degrees compared to qualifications received from FET colleges. However, according to one analyst 600 000 university graduates are “languishing at home” after completing their studies. This is an alarmingly high number of university graduates who remain unemployed, unable to put into practice what they have learned. In line with government’s policy of promoting FET’s, we have positioned ourselves to become more directly involved in lifeskills with high school youth providing career guidance and subject selection for Grade 9 youth, to help them to identify the most appropriate course for themselves as individuals, and thereby beginning to shift mindsets. We will also engage with their parents and teachers during this process. By providing opportunities such as Skills Days and Career/Study exhibitions, we are also promoting more widespread opportunities to young people.
2. Expectations of job placement i.e. “jobs for CV” approach
The youth in South Africa today have been accused of having an attitude of entitlement, which is coupled by a society which have not fully been empowered about the rights and responsibilities of democracy. Many still have an expectation on government to do things for them, rather than doing it themselves. This means that there is sometimes an expectation that it they have given in their CV, they expect that you will find them a job. The challenge for Beautiful Gate is that while partnering with job placement and skills development organisation, we need to still ensure that the process is empowering for community members and remains true to the principle of self-help.
Sometimes, we question ourselves “Is self-help the way to go?” The process of empowerment is much slower, and sometimes it is much more difficult to measure success. However, when we consider the stories of hope we believe that we have chosen the right approach.
P.O Box 144 Cape Town Mitchells Plain Western Cape South Africa
Finding ways to connect young people to opportunity is an essential activity given the high youth unemployment rate in South Africa. In this learning brief Beautiful Gate South Africa unpacks their strategy to assist the youth from Lower Crossroads in connecting to opportunity through their self-help resource centre. Ideally each community should offer support to young people who are struggling to access the available opportunities for various reasons - lack of access to information being an important one - thus, there is much to learn from the experience of an organisation that has doing this for the last two years.