An innovative entrepreneurship hub that recently opened in Alexandra, Johannesburg, is already making a positive impact with three small businesses currently being incubated, 38 young people being employed, and in excess of 3,000 job seeking youths from the Alexandra Township having been enrolled on the YES4YOUTH programme. The hub offers young people in the Alexandra township the opportunity to develop their potential and turn their hopes and dreams into feasible economic opportunities.

“The Netcare Ulusha Hub was collaboratively developed by Netcare and YES and is strategically located at the Exemplar REITail Limited Alexandra Mall. It is supported by a range of other partners including Nedbank, Vulcan and Air Liquide, and has the specific goal of addressing barriers to sustainable entrepreneurship growth in townships, skills development and youth employment viewing these as central to inclusive economic growth and transformation,” says Dr Nceba Ndzwayiba, director: HR and transformation of Netcare.

Now at a staggering 74% amongst the youths aged 15 to 24, youth unemployment in South Africa is a ticking time bomb that requires urgent intervention by business, government and society at large. The Netcare Ulusha Hub, as part of the broader YES initiative, aims to contribute towards addressing this intractable challenge,” Dr Ndzwayiba explains.

“The greatest impact can be achieved when young people are empowered to not only enter the job market, but also when their specific talents are recognised and nurtured with relevant skills to grow their earning potential to help support their households today, and develop into job creating business leaders of tomorrow,” says Dr Tashmia Ismail, chief executive of YES.

Alexandra

“Building partnerships and linkages between emerging and more established businesses is fundamental to fostering inclusive economic growth with strong and sustainable individual enterprises, value chains, and an ecosystem that can meaningfully uplift the community.

“This is precisely what we are setting out to achieve at the hub. Youth who register with the YES enrolment centre at the hub are offered assessment, training, ideas for careers or new businesses, work opportunities, access to networks, markets, and the necessary partner support to bring it to fruition,” Dr Ismail adds.

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Dr Ndzwayiba agrees, “Our communities are home to thousands of potential entrepreneurs and self-starters who just need that first chance to unlock their potential. The capabilities and creativity of the youth can translate into profitable local businesses, thriving co-operatives, and stimulate the local economy if grassroots innovators and small businesses are provided with the resources and networks they need.”

Ground-breaking skills profiling in Alexandra

At the heart of the hub is the YES enrolment centre, where young people seeking work can register. Each person who registers is invited to play a series of games called SkillsCraft, a pioneering assessment tool developed by international technologists in conjunction with the World Bank and YES, to profile their interests, aptitude, abilities and strengths.  and potential career pathways.

“The games format of these skills assessments helps to eliminate the stress of conventional skills tests that may impede a young person’s optimal performance, and creates an electronic profile of the work seeker’s strengths. YES then uses the profile to identify potential career pathways and help link each individual with suitably matched opportunities,” Dr Ismail explains.

These electronic skills profiles are used by the YES enrolment centre when businesses have vacancies, to identify the job seekers who have the required abilities, and to place them accordingly in quality work experiences. In addition to the services offered through the YES enrolment centre, the following facilities are currently housed at the hub:

Hluvuko Designs textile manufacturing facility

One of the anchor tenants of the Netcare Ulusha Hub is Hluvuko Designs, a women-owned social enterprise co-operative led by managing director, Ponani Shikweni. The textile manufacturing and training facility works with local seamstresses to produce items, mainly for the corporate market.

“Hluvuko Designs is a glowing example of what can be achieved with passion, perseverance and partnership. Ponani has created a thriving and growing business from humble beginnings, at first running a small operation from her own home in Alexandra. She has now built up a growing co-operative of 35 women and youth from the township to fulfil orders from corporates, producing sought-after quality products that are ‘exported’ from Alexandra to end users across South Africa,” Dr Ndzwayiba says.

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Future Prints 3D printing lab

Alexandra

One of the aims of the hub is to equip young people with the skills needed for the fourth industrial revolution. To this end, the on-site 3D lab fitted out and run by Termite Labs as the programme partner and funded by Air Liquide, will train youth to work with these high-tech systems.

According to Joachim Lubbe of Termite Labs, the aim is to transfer skills to young people and drive the adoption of 3D printing within the community. The public can have 3D designs done and printed at the lab, in a wide range of materials.

Tastemakers culinary academy and restaurant

Tastemakers is a culinary academy and restaurant that is run by Wakanda as the programme partner. Wakanda provides chef and catering training for enrolled participants and will incubate new businesses that want to operate within the hospitality industry. This restaurant and culinary academy module also offers community nutrition classes aimed at improving health within the wider Alexandra community.

Ceramics training and production centre

Phase 1 of the R6.5 million hub that was sponsored by Netcare will also include a pottery and ceramics training and production centre, run by Nyati Creations to develop local artistic talent. The facility is planned to open later this year. Its products will be showcased at, and sold from, a gallery at the hub, and will also be available through other retail avenues.

Other sponsors who contributed to the first phase of the hub development are Dr Rasid Ismail, MMI and Bidvest Prestige.

Future expansion 

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A drone academy, creative hub, digital lab, and business centre will form part of the Phase 2 development of the hub that will be developed by YES in collaboration with other corporates. “The potential of unemployed young people remains a largely untapped resource. The Netcare Ulusha Hub offers the youth in Alexandra numerous opportunities for learning new skills and crafts that will equip them to start and grow their own businesses and in time create further employment in the community, or become marketable to employers. With these opportunities now available to them, we are looking forward to seeing young people in Alexandra developing skillsets they might never have imagined and taking up new careers,” Dr Ndzwayiba says.

Two of the many Alex youth who have already benefitted from the opportunities offered at the Netcare Ulusha Hub are Kopano Caroline Sehlare and Sharon Madisayitsele.

Kopano is currently doing a 12-month work experience at the hub. She graduated with a Diploma in Travel and Tourism in 2019, but with no experience, she battled to find a job.

Alexandra

“I’m extremely proud to be part of the YES programme, and am excited that the Netcare Ulusha Hub will open doors to so many other youths in the community,” said Kopano, who works as a training and marketing coordinator at the hub.  

Sharon, a receptionist at the hub’s YES enrolment centre, says the opportunity has been wonderful for her and her family, and helped her in upskilling herself.

“I wasn’t working before but now I have an income to support my family. I am such an inspiration to other people because they didn’t think that I could do it as a disabled person. But here I am, showing that it can be done.”

“Bringing the youth into the economy will not only help create a brighter future for the direct beneficiaries and their families, it is also a step towards bridging the wider problems of poverty, unemployment and inequality in our society,” Dr Ismail concludes.

By The Editor

Dumi Mbona is a founder of TMS Mag, an Author. Worked as a schools' youth Life Coach and KZN Youth Parliament Facilitator under the KZN Office of the Premier the Office on the Right of the Child.