A Real Solution to the Youth Skills Gap: A Simanye Trust Success Story

One of the companies that the Simanye Trust has invested in, SA Back Office, is making waves in the skills and job creation space in SA. It helps companies get R5 B-BBEE recognition for every R1 spent while creating real impact in terms of sustainable skills for unemployed youth and at the same time providing low cost business outsource services to business of all sizes. Read on for SBO’s story and how they went from 8 learners to close to 300 at 4 different locations in just over a year.

The challenge of the Skills Gap in South Africa – the drastic mismatch between the needs of industry and the skills and abilities of the majority of the population – is a very serious and complex issue, and one that requires a multi-faceted approach.  There are many good initiatives already in the space, aimed at every level from early childhood education through to varsity, technical education, and a range of portable, workplace and life skills. However, the gap remains.

Although driven for the most part by an understanding of the real need for such interventions, the landscape is also significantly shaped by the current B-BBEE policies and legislation and many companies and service providers therefore make an effort to also align to the Codes. Under the Amended Codes, Skills Development is a priority element, and as such failure to obtain a sub-minimum score on this Element could cause a BEE level drop, which in turn makes it harder for companies to do business with large companies and government in the current South African environment. It is therefore important that Skills Development and education initiatives are aligned to the Codes as well as create real impact in order for them to be very attractive to businesses that need to meet both their compliance requirements as well as fill resourcing and skills gaps in their own organisations. Luckily, the Codes are flexible enough to allow for a wide range of initiatives that can be tailored to create the best possible impact for society as well as individual organisations.

Given this landscape, and knowing his unique skill set in Business Process Outsourcing, Scha van Niekerk had an idea in late 2014. So many of the young people who are currently unemployed are lacking skills to such a degree that even the basic workplace tasks can seem overwhelming and end up frustrating both them as well as their employers. Scha realised however, that even these seemingly basic tasks are in fact made up of many smaller and much simpler tasks which require far less overall knowledge and workplace readiness. If he could break these tasks into smaller ones and create a strong team leader and supervisor hierarchy then even people with very limited workplace skills could each do one small component of a basic task until they mastered it and moved on to the next component, thus learning the task as a whole in the long term. At the same time, in the short term, different learners could all be working on different parts of the whole and thus the overall task would still be done – just by many different people at once.

And so, SA Back Office (SBO) was born.  What is most exciting about SBO is that it not only gives learnerships and skills in a very easy to access and learn way, it also provides low cost services to SMEs and corporates. Thus learners are getting actual on the job experience, and businesses that are already cash strapped or looking to reduce costs can get critical administrative, data capturing, and other business function assistance for a much better price than offered by the rest of the market. At the same time, corporates can outsource their learnerships to SBO in order to ensure real skills development, and can even outsource some aspects of their administration back to the same learners but under SBO supervision and guidance.  Additionally, they can also absorb some of the learners they feel would be a good fit down the road, already having seen them in action in the SBO environment.

In early 2015 SBO opened its doors with 8 learners and just over a year later has managed close to 300  learners in over 4 locations in Johannesburg with an aggressive expansion plan across South Africa. Many of the learners who started with the company early on have either moved up to team leaders and supervisors or have found employment elsewhere.

When asked about what he feels is the key to success of this venture, Scha replied ‘’People inherently possess the necessary perseverance, intelligence, innovation and ability to succeed but an environment in which limitations are challenged and potential is unlocked, makes this all happen faster. At SBO we have a workplace like none other – a (sometimes chaotic) mix of raw talent and high pressure demands for outcome, clever IT and a desperation to succeed like it’s the only chance we have…because for most of our learners…it is the only chance…and we take that very, very seriously. We are succeeding because there is no possible other option. ‘’

Here’s a personal story from one of SA Back Office’s first learners, Calvin, a success we are very proud of, and one of many across SBO’s 4 locations:

“Success is no accident. It’s hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all love of what you doing.”  
– Pele.
This is my story. I was born in Sekhukhune Jane Furse in the village of Dicheoung in Limpopo, where I matriculated. Like many young people in my community, I have dependents to support, including looking after my 10 year old sister and my 2 year old son.
I had to start and stop my studies, beginning my post-matric qualification in Office Studies at the College of Waterberg and finally finishing a degree at Sekhukhune College for ICDL Studies. After graduation, I found himself as a new business scanner and later an HR administrator.
But I wanted to further my professional journey, so I joined a Signa learnership programme in 2014. As part of the learnership, hosted by SA Back Office (SBO), I was offered real workplace experience training and began expanding my capabilities by being introduced to various job types. In the end, I discovered that I excelled at sales and before the end of my first year, I became a team leader. My hard work and dedication paid off. SBO managed to secure me a second learnership year which was funded by Bophelong Construction, allowing me to continue to up-skill and grow professionally.
This learnership was for a project management qualification at a NQF level four. After just three months, the company itself took a personal interest in me, offering me an opportunity to work for their organization full-time. Since March 2016 I have been employed as an HR Admin Assistant at Bophelong and am loving my new role. The skills I acquired through SBO and the resultant work opportunity lead directly to a real job that allows me to support his family.
That doesn’t mean I haven’t stopped dreaming though. One day, I hope to run my own company that will help change lives and positively impact on people like me who need an opportunity to change their lives.

SBO is a great addition to the Skills Development landscape in South Africa, as well as the enterprise development space indirectly. For more information please take a look at their website: www.backofficesolutions.co.za

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