19 January 2021 | 3 Minutes

MTN YES Programme – a catalyst for growth and development

In December 2018, 100 young people signed up as interns at MTN Group, filling the Innovation Centre’s auditorium with colour and cheer. Six months later, and a few hundred metres away in the offices of MTN South Africa, another 900 young people embarked on the same, special internship.

Brimming with energy and enthusiasm, these recruits were taking the first step in their career development by joining MTN through the YES4Youth programme.

“It was so exciting to be joining MTN,” recalls Simphiwe Khoza from rural Limpopo. “Imagine having the opportunity to learn all about this iconic mobile operator and leading African brand from the inside!”

The brainchild of the Youth Employment Service (YES), the programme offers previously unemployed young people a quality, paid work experience, improving their employability and acting as a catalyst for economic growth and development.

The business-led collaboration with the government aims to address South Africa’s critically high level of youth unemployment. In the first quarter of 2020, before the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, nearly 42% of young people aged between 15 and 34 were not in employment, education or training, according to the Stats SA Quarterly Labour Force Survey.

MTN recognises the value of the programme as a fresh and bold solution to South Africa’s unemployment crisis.

“Our aim is to provide a range of foundational skills to set these young people up for long-term success,” says Lauretta Theys, MTN Group General Manager: Manco HR Services. “It fits into MTN’s work to support vibrant and sustainable societies.”

So how does the programme work?

For starters, the interns are assigned to departments that best suit their skills or qualifications. They are each given a smartphone loaded with a range of learning programmes developed by YES. At MTN, they also get specially developed MTN programmes, as well as access to the online learning platform Kubicle, offering dozens of courses to improve data literacy.

The interns at MTN are paid a monthly stipend, which is significantly more than the amount YES requires. Other MTN-specific benefits include a monthly allocation of data, free MTN-to-MTN calls, and an allowance to spend at the canteen.

The most important benefit, however, is a line manager who acts a mentor, engaging with every young person and assisting them throughout their journey at MTN, establishing proper key performance indicators against which their performance can be measured.

Apart from the line manager, there are also regular engagements with HR, which develops monthly themes to guide interns’ career development. These include things like design thinking skills, building emotional intelligence and – lately – resilience during COVID-19.

“We’ve been very clear to our YES interns: your career is your responsibility. If you don’t lean in, we are not going to do it for you,” cautions Lauretta, adding that MTN seeks to empower these young people with the correct tools; with line managers with the time and capacity to mentor them and provide meaningful work; and to ensure they have the right skills – soft skills, technical skills as well as functional skills.

MTN’s digital innovation programme is another critical element for the interns: “People need to be digital in the way that they think, and agile. This programme will set them apart, giving MTN interns a better chance of securing meaningful roles in future or an opportunity to start their own businesses and develop their own apps,” she says.

The benefits are not limited to the interns: MTN is also clearly benefiting from the programme.

At MTN South Africa, one group of interns was assigned to help with the local launch in January 2020 of Mobile Money.

“The results have been very positive,” says Charlene Lawrence, Senior Manager: Learning and Development. By September 2020, MTN South Africa had two million registered MoMo users. “The brand ambassadors clearly played a part in this.”

With dozens of companies across South Africa having signed up to the programme, how is MTN differentiating its offering?

“We are building careers for the YES learners in MTN,” says Charlene. “Over and above earning a stipend, they have completed short certifications and have been given an opportunity to market themselves as well as gain meaningful work experience. Throughout the programme, we hear great stories of all the different experiences people were exposed to.”

“The spirit of YES is to make people employable: rotate them through the business and give them exposure to the workplace,” says Charlene. “This is a platform on which to start building a career, and network throughout the organisation.”

“We are also treating the YES interns as a talent pool. If we do it well, we shouldn’t need to always go out into the market to look for talent, we should be growing the talent ourselves,” Charlene says. “It’s a fantastic programme that we at MTN are really benefiting from.”

Simphiwe agrees: “I’m really grateful to MTN for the quality experience it has given me and am sure this will lead to even greater opportunities in future.”

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