Conversation: Taddy Blecher on empowerment through education

Taddy Blecher, CEO of CIDA and the Maharishi Institute has pioneered free access to post-secondary school education for historically disadvantaged youth. He is known as a pioneer of the free tertiary education movement in South Africa, having helped to create six free access institutions of higher learning, as well as inspiring the creation of two other institutions.
He is consistently working on developing sustainable means to help unemployed youth in South Africa gain access to transferable skills through education, training, jobs, and careers, thereby breaking the cycle of poverty.

1. What is your hope for the youth in South Africa?

My hope is that every single person lives up to his full potential and finds a career they love and have the skills and values to live the life of their dreams.

2. What are the main obstacles preventing South African youth from reaching their potential?

The main obstacle is that our youth are not equipped with the right tools and training to change their lives. There is a lack of development of the person in a holistic sense. With the right skills, tools and training as well as a quality schooling, there is no reason why each person cannot change their life. Our youth have massive potential but are not treated like they do.
There is not enough awareness through all the media avenues of what opportunities are available for jobs and education.

3. How has your organisation addressed these issues?

Many people believe that South African youth are entitled. However, our experience has shown that when we assume the best of our youth, they always rise to the challenge.

Our young people need training on what is expected of them in the workplace, and how to have the best attitude. We focus on expectations, give training and help them achieve success. We expect the best of them and have seen a total transformation.

Using this model, we have assisted 17,580 formerly unemployed youth to access higher education and quality employment. These youth now earn well over R1 billion per year in combined earnings. We estimate they will earn over R28.3 billion in their working careers. Many are now leaders across the economy. We are grateful to have an average annual job placement rate of over 95%, which is unusual in that these have been drop-out youth who have been stuck and marginalised.

I believe things will change when more and more youth are successful and go back to their communities and start to inspire their younger peers. The school system is the ideal place to start to inspire and educate youth about opportunities available and career guidance, so we are working on an initiative relating to entrepreneurship and employability in the school system.

We have seen that anything is possible, but we need to deal with the whole person. So many young people are dealing with depression, anxiety, abuse and other trauma. Therefore, by dealing with the whole person – their history, their emotional makeup, their context – and also giving them a holistic set of skills and offerings, we will see miracles more and more.

The youth of South Africa possess much more latent potential than people give them credit for.

4. What is your personal connection to what you do? Why did you get into this field?

Growing up, we were very poor and because of education, we became very successful. My family originally came to South Africa from Eastern Europe with absolutely nothing. Although we slept on mattresses on the floor in our early years, my parents made sure that we went to the top private schools. Education was like a religion in our house.

Because I have seen first-hand the impact of education has, I want to give it over to the people around me. I could never have imagined what the result would be. It is a lot of work, but my life is an absolute joy; it is a privilege to do the work I am doing.

SMME’s Essential to Job Creation

With the national youth unemployment rate at more than 50%, South Africans can no longer rely solely on big businesses and government to create jobs.

According to the National Development Plan, 90 percent of all new jobs will come from Small, Medium and Micro-Sized Enterprises (SMMEs) by 2030. According to the 2017/18 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report (2015 figures), SMMEs in South Africa contributed to 36 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

SMME growth in South Africa is slower than expected because they face several challenges including maintaining profitability, unpredictable cash flow and securing financing for the business expansion, which includes hiring staff.

Jake Willis CEO of Lulaway says this is where internships can play a significant role in alleviating some of the burden for SMMEs. “Internships are recognised as one of the best mechanisms available to stimulate job creation and are an effective means to promote the inclusion of unemployed, inexperienced youth into the formal economy, further bolstering social development.”

Willis points out that many SMMEs are not aware that they can access funding to host interns through organisations such as Lulaway as a cost-effective way to increase their staffing complement and support job creation. “Interns or experiential learners are employed in private businesses on a fixed term basis under the sponsorship of a government body such as a Sector Education Training Authority (SETA) e.g. Services SETA or the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA).

“These bodies provide funding in the form of a monthly stipend, usually ranging from R1,500 to R3,000 per month, depending on the programme) to allow participants to gain practical workplace experience. The host company can choose to top up the stipend amount,” adds Willis.

Notably, President Cyril Ramaphosa, as promised in his State of the Nation address, has launched the Youth Employment Service (YES) programme in partnership with big business and organised labour. The initiative is aimed at providing one million interns with the opportunity to gain work experience over the next three years, making them more employable. This initiative will ensure that more businesses – big and small – offer internships, thus radically decreasing the levels of unemployment in the country.

Hosting internships is a win-win for all parties.

Willis says it makes financial sense to host interns, particularly if your business needs staff, but lacks the capital to hire.
Hiring staff to perform operational functions enables particularly micro and small enterprises to adequately service their clients and generate revenue and grow the business. For more established businesses, the cost-saving allows them to more easily invest in their expansion, Willis explains.
“For many SMMEs, the inability to hire and expand operations is one of the most debilitating hinderances to growth. Internship programmes allow businesses to hire much-needed resources at a below-market cost with no long-term commitment.”

Internships allow businesses to increase staff quality. They also improve long-term career prospects for participants, arming them with on-the-job experience. “Businesses can grow their talent pool by enlisting top-performing interns onto the company’s team once the internship period has ended. These interns have already undergone training and will add value as soon as they commence work as permanent employees. Similarly, interns who feel that they are not suited to the company or role have a seamless exit on the conclusion of the contract,” explains Willis.

On a macro-economic level, the growth of SMMEs has a net positive impact on the economy. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report for 2017/18 indicated that SMMEs in South Africa contribute 36% to gross domestic product. Your company will hopefully increase revenue, increase profitability and be able to employ more people going forward.

Businesses can be a valuable part of the unemployment solution in South Africa. By offering real life work experience to young people, they are actively participating in job creation. A country with increased levels of employment fairs better on all fronts – increased spending power means a thriving economy and a more optimistic life for all citizens.

Willis says for some interns, such experiential learning opportunities are required to complete a vocational qualification, while others use internship opportunities as a way to gain some practical work experience.

“Businesses who host interns can increase their operational capacity and profitability, thereby increasing the likelihood of creating even more jobs in the long-term. At Lulaway, we offer an end-to-end solution for the management of all stipend-related administration. If you are a small company that would like to take advantage of internship opportunities, but do not have the resources to manage the administrative requirements, we can help. Business owners can also check out our free guide,” concludes Willis.


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Hiring for Growth: A guide to growing your business while creating jobs


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With the national youth unemployment rate at more than 50%, South Africans can no longer rely solely on big businesses and government to create jobs. SMME growth in South Africa is slower than expected because they face several challenges including maintaining profitability, unpredictable cash flow and securing financing for the business expansion, which includes hiring staff.

Funded internship programmes are, therefore, a lifeline to both SMME’s and the unemployed. In this guide, we explain how businesses – both large and small – can leverage available funding in order to create jobs and grow their business.

Included in the guide:

  • Everything you need to know about funded internship programmes
  • How it works
  • Qualifying criteria
  • How to apply for funding
  • Benefits for your business
  • FAQ’s
  • Case Study

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