President Cyril Ramaphosa launches Youth Employment Service Initiative. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE
President Cyril Ramaphosa launches Youth Employment Service Initiative. Picture: ELMOND JIYANE

In the face of growing youth unemployment in the country, few commentators could have been surprised when President Cyril Ramaphosa prioritised it in the state of the nation address. The launch of the Youth Employment Service (YES) in March, was an indication that the Presidency was willing to look for news ideas for tackling youth unemployment.

YES has the ambitious goal of providing one-million South Africans with paid work experience over the next three years, and 100 companies have already signed up to the initiative.

One of the assumptions underlying the YES model is that first time jobseekers struggle to access work opportunities, and that once this gap is bridged, subsequent opportunities are more accessible. There are a number of initiatives in SA that operate on the same assumption, and I’m sure that YES will draw on lessons from these initiatives.

It is important that YES and such initiatives draw on lessons from less-formal initiatives as well. An interesting informal initiative is the Facebook group called "I need someone who …", which is an attempt to match job-seekers with opportunities.

In April 2016, tired of seeing young people struggle to find opportunities, Theodorah Manjo decided to do what she could to solve the problem by starting the Facebook group called "I need someone who …".

When it first started, she thought that 10,000 members would be an ambitious target. The group since has grown to more than 288,000 members (mostly based in Gauteng), and there are many testimonies from successful job-seekers on the group.

One of the things that distinguishes this group from other such Facebook groups is that it is actively managed by Theodorah and her team of tireless moderators. The rules of the group are clear and are reinforced: activity that violates this rule is deleted, which means that scams, opportunities that take advantage of job seekers and inappropriate comments are filtered are deleted.

Active community management is a huge drawcard for jobseekers and posters alike. It is likely that is one of the reasons why the group has grown so large and why recruiters keep posting opportunities to the group. Unfortunately, job-seeking scams abound.

Even if job seekers are not fleeced, scams can suck time and resources (such as the travel money to get to a job interview) from job seekers.

Job seekers can use "I need someone who…" safe in the knowledge that moderators have done all they can to ensure the opportunities posted are genuine.

The group is useful to users because it is a site for opportunity aggregation. This use might be self-evident, but it may be worth reflecting on why a Facebook group with rudimentary filtering features and search functions is an efficient option for aggregation. Clearly there are features of this group that make it superior to current search sites that have sophisticated searching and filtering functions.

I would argue that the following features are useful:

• Inclusion of public-sector opportunities. These (especially for first time job seekers) seem to be tricky to source. Posters on "I need someone who …" source these opportunities and also include precise instructions on applying in the public sector.

• Concentration of bridging opportunities. Because of the nature of the group, posters tend to share bridging opportunities such as learnerships and entry-level opportunities. Users may feel that some bridging opportunities (such as three-month contracts) are too casual to post on formal search sites. These casual opportunities are often valuable to people who may not have other work experience.

• Targeting opportunities. Recruiters and posters provide explicit targeting information, which increases the likelihood of opportunities being useful to individual job seekers. The most common form of targeting is geographical proximity, but recruiters often highlight critical attributes. This makes the processes more effective for both job seekers and recruiters.

We know that job-seeking can be lonely and isolating and so it is not surprising that many of the posts revolve around seeking social support from the rest of the group. Some of the most liked and commented on posts in the group are the posts from successful jobseekers.

Jobseekers also request support in terms of advice on their individual jobseeking strategies. This aspect of the group, highlights the need for comprehensive support for job seekers. Evidence for this is as follows:

• Group members are still extremely responsive to scams. Discussions of jobseeker scams are a perennial feature on the group. There are at least four questions a week about scams and whether users should pay for job opportunities.

• Jobseekers use this forum to ask basic questions about the jobseeking processes. While the social support is useful, it shows that many people are not conversant with a basic job application process. In addition, there are questions about basic labour law, which show that people do not have a clear understanding of due process.

There is a need for improved aggregation of job opportunities. It is clear that aggregation is a critical benefit for this group, but there is a larger question about how to present opportunities (especially bridging opportunities) to other job seekers.

If jobseekers in Gauteng who have access to internet, require support in aggregation and targeted opportunities, how much more acute is this challenge for rural job seekers or job seekers without reliable internet access? How should we access specific opportunities in smaller workplaces and ensure that the right applicants present themselves?

The second lesson is that jobseekers require improved support and a clearer understanding of the recruitment processes. Social support is important, particularly as jobseekers often report feelings of isolation. Structured advice and support in terms of approaching jobseeking will help to direct job-seeker efforts.

The final lesson is that we can’t employ a one-size fits all approach to matching jobseekers with opportunities. What works in urban Gauteng will not work in rural Limpopo. It may be worthwhile for bridging programmes to incorporate elements of successful informal initiatives, on a regional level.

Schultz is a consultant at Pegasys Consulting. She writes in her personal capacity.