'No shortage of work' at bottom of jobs ladder

07 August 2016 - 02:00 By ASHA SPECKMAN
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Agencies redress poor networking and match employers with candidates, writes Asha Speckman

There is a shortage of motorcycle delivery people in South Africa, as well as of sales staff, cashiers and hotel and restaurant workers.

The demand from employers looking to fill these positions is acute and companies such as mobile recruitment start-up Giraffe are struggling to keep up with the growing need.

Anish Shivdasani, Giraffe CEO and co-founder, said: "We get requests for motorcycle drivers all the time. In the beginning we had some motorcycle drivers on our database but they are all gone now because we've placed them all."

Similarly, the financial services industry is struggling with a dearth of call-centre insurance agents, a position where a matric is often the most stringent requirement.

The findings are astonishing, considering the unemployment rate of 26.6% reported by Statistics South Africa last week. It said the expanded unemployment rate rose 0.1 percentage point to 36.4%.

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Johannesburg-based Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, which links job seekers to employers, reports a similar trend. CEO Maryana Iskander said this week: "There are vacancies across all sectors for entry-level jobs. In the retail and hospitality sector these might include sales staff, cashiers, hotel and restaurant staff and delivery drivers. They also, however, include 'scarce' skills such as positions for butchers, baristas and bakers."

In the corporate sector these vacancies showed up in contact and other service and sales environments, whether they were in-house query resolution or customer-service orientated, or outsourced debt recovery or sales roles for domestic and foreign markets, Iskander said.

In the broad industrial sector, she said, there was a demand for operators in manufacturing and in jobs that led to artisan or technician roles, and in the construction industry.

"We know that over half of entry-level job openings are in small- and medium-sized enterprises where there's an opportunity to absorb young people if those businesses can be supported adequately for growth."

The expanded unemployment rate of 36.4% - as measured by StatsSA - shows 8.9million people were unemployed during the second quarter of this year. The expanded unemployment bracket consists of people between the ages of 15 and 64 who did not have a job and were available to take up a job or start a business. They included discouraged work seekers.

The gap between the official and expanded employment rates has grown, increasing from 7.2 percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2008 to 9.8 percentage points in the second quarter of this year.

The formal sector has increased jobs annually since 2011 and created 82,000 jobs year on year in the second quarter of 2016. But the informal sector is trending in the opposite direction, and after increasing jobs for six successive quarters since the second quarter of 2014, it has begun to shed jobs since the fourth quarter of last year.

Youth continue to be a vulnerable group in the labour market. Young people - of whom only 30% are employed - have an unemployment rate of 37.5%.

A skills mismatch is typically blamed but access to information is another contributor.

Giraffe's Shivdasani said: "Unemployment is very high because of mainly structural reasons, but one reason is because of access and visibility."

This was the impetus for Shivdasani and his business partner Shafin Anwarsha's automated mobile recruitment app, Giraffe, which operates on any cellphone with a web browser and links medium-skilled job candidates to potential employers. Such jobs pay R3,000 to R15,000 a month.

Anwarsha said: "They have to resort to a lot of inefficient means to look for work. They might ask family members or friends. A lot of the time it simply doesn't work. Or it works and they aren't placed in the right job."

On the Giraffe app, job seekers can create a CV by responding to computer-generated questions. The platform matches candidates to jobs according to their skills and location, and schedules interviews.

block_quotes_start We work through intermediaries who can reach enterprises at the coalface, who can reach unemployed youth block_quotes_end

Recently, Vodacom agreed to offer free data to job seekers using Giraffe. Employers can also sign in to request candidates. About 20% of the Giraffe intake are first-time job seekers and 60% are women. The company has interviewed 40,000 people since opening for business last year.

This week, its founders presented their award-winning concept in the US at the invitation of the Brookings Institution think tank, which is showcasing the technology as a case study for tackling job-creation hurdles in emerging markets.

In South Africa, the hurdle was the struggle to identify and develop entry-level staff who stayed and made progress, Harambee's Iskander said. "Employers in particular view the National Senior Certificate as an almost irrelevant credential. As a result, they default to requiring work seekers to have work experience as a means of managing risk for the business."

This results in growing wage bills, over-reliance on temporary employment and disincentives for developing or promoting employees.

On the supply side, young people from poor families did not have money to look for work and were not in networks where the jobs were, she said.

Harambee has partnered with the government's Jobs Fund to link job candidates to employers. The fund was launched in June 2011 with a R9-billion allocation from the National Treasury.

Fund head Najwah Allie-Edries said 104 projects were being undertaken across sectors that included hospitality, information and communications technology, and wholesale and retail trade. "We work through intermediaries who can reach enterprises at the coalface, who can reach unemployed youth," Allie-Edries said.

The fund provides finance for organisations such as Harambee that match job seekers with jobs.

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The fund also co-finances projects from private sector and nongovernmental organisations that can result in sustainable jobs.

Since inception, the fund had created 121,481 permanent jobs through its partners.

"Of these, 76,743 were new jobs that primarily resulted from growth in small businesses and 44,738 were existing jobs that were vacant [but] through actively improving skill levels we improved the match between skill and demand for labour," Allie-Edries said. Of these jobs, 64% were allocated to youth.

On average, the cost of creating a job was R40,000 to R50,000, Allie-Edries said.

The fund is now in its sixth call for proposals. By the end of October it will allocate further money to competitive projects.

Not all of the R9-billion has been spent but the fund was assessing its impact.

"We haven't made a bid for additional funds ... It is premature for us to ask for additional funding. Within the next year we'd have to have a sense of have we met our objectives, is it an appropriate tool? ...before we submit a bid for additional funds."

speckmana@sundaytimes.co.za

* The story was amended to reflect that Giraffe had interviewed 40 000 candidates for jobs rather than placed them in jobs as was previously reported. The error is regretted.

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