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Building youth skills while building business partnerships

Building youth skills and investing in  and supplier development is crucial for addressing transformation and unemployment

writes Pierre Bruwer, MD of Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron. Fortunately, innovative South African companies are doing just that.

South Africa finds itself in the unenviable position of facing several national crises at the same time. Fortunately, we are an innovative nation, and solutions are emerging that are making a significant difference to these challenges.

An example of this is becoming evident in how we address youth unemployment, building youth skills, supplier development,  and our economy’s transformation.

I think we all agree that these three issues are approaching crisis levels. Unemployment is stratospheric – certainly beyond 50% for young people; start-ups and SMEs battle to get going due to a lack of skills, capital, and experience; and established organizations face challenges in finding supplier-development partners.

Despite this complex set of problems, South Africans always surprise me with their creativity in solving them. Supplier development (SD) initiatives are constantly emerging. Skills development remains a priority in both the private and public sectors, and almost every organization you care to name is finding ways to transform its staff, management, and supplier database.

These solutions are encouraging, but  they must also be sustainable, with suppliers delivering quality, effective work that builds trust, supports client businesses and can sustain long professional relationships.

However, it is possible to transform, building youth skills and opportunities and grow a small business while generating positive outcomes for all involved.

One example of an organization that is doing this is Sum of 21.This creative incubator develops young talent to successfully enter the creative industry in their respective fields.

Sum of 21 offers a 12-month internship/learnership programme to young creatives and communicators. They work on real marketing briefs or client projects under the mentorship, guidance and coaching of dedicated senior staff members.

Sum of 21 provides skills development and on-the-job training while driving transformation and empowerment through commercial partnerships with corporates and clients. It’s an innovative solution to job creation.

The young creatives perform the actual work and gain experience while getting coached and mentored by industry veterans. It’s a business that Netstar has partnered with for the past three years.

While the partnership certainly forms part of Netstar’s supplier development initiatives and our B-BBEE commitment, the most impressive part of the relationship is that Sum of 21 operates perfectly independently as a supplier, providing a diverse suite of marketing services to our company.

We have had some highly effective collaborations with the team, working together on our recent repositioning strategy, various brand projects, internal messaging, as well as our regular social-media communications. In so doing, it not only provides employment and skills, helping to support young South African graduates – it provides a competitive service.

Because of the company’s flexible structure, with new graduates coming in and others moving on to rewarding jobs elsewhere in the sector, it is exceptionally agile.  The team can move and adapt quickly to the changing marketing needs of their clients.

At the same time, the partnership is helping youth gain valuable work experience that helps to make them marketable at a time when jobs are scarce.

Sum of 21 is but one of several similar glimmers of hope in the business sector. They, and others like them, are a reminder of the resilience and dynamism of South African SMEs. As responsible corporate citizens, partnering with such organizations is an excellent opportunity to create jobs, develop suppliers, and help grow our economy.

These are B-BBEE solutions that work, with business partners whom we deal with as equals.

If we are to achieve our nation-building goals, we need to continue developing viable concepts that deliver on the needs of all stakeholders. As with so much else in life, when everybody benefits, we succeed together.

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