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Young people bring a fresh perspective to the renewable energy sector

With an already untenable youth unemployment rate of 58.1% in the last quarter of 2019, South Africa’s younger generation must now contend with a pandemic that has dealt a massive blow to the country’s economy. This has had particularly harsh repercussions for young people trying to gain a foothold in the world of work.

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Now, more than ever, the nation’s youth will struggle to find a place in the economy and many of those who had just entered the workplace may have seen their jobs placed on hold, or worse still, lost.

There are, however, some good news stories of businesses putting measures into place to hold onto their employees and continue training and nurturing young people to fulfil specific roles in their operations.

One of these businesses is Enel Green Power South Africa (EGP RSA), where the average age of employees in 37, and 64% of the workforce is made up of people who are under 35. Furthermore, over 50% of leadership roles are filled by women and 6% of senior management is made up of young people.

Abigail Fidelis, who is Head of People and Organization at EGP RSA, says: “Young people are worst affected by unemployment because it is difficult for them to gain workplace skills and experience. Many organizations expect new employees to hit the ground running, but if job applicants have never been given the opportunity to get some form of experience, they are often overlooked. Of course, at EGP RSA we hire people at a professional level, but we are also highly aware of the need to encourage young people – with a particular focus on women – to enter the sustainable energy sector and gain the necessary skills to make a meaningful contribution in the workplace.”

The company introduced an internship program three years ago after partnering with the University of Johannesburg and Wits’ engineering departments in order to get an idea of how many young people were interested in working in the renewable energy sector.

But EGP RSA doesn’t only enlist civil and electrical engineering students for the internship program, it also recruits young people who do not have qualifications from tertiary institutions to acquire the necessary skills to run local control rooms. To date, seven interns have been hired by EGP RSA (to run local control rooms).

Fidelis goes on to say: “We understand that some companies may not always have the budget to equip young people with the necessary skills and experience to make them work-ready; it is their responsibility to do so as much as they can with the resources they have. In a fast-changing industry such as the renewable energy sector, young people are particularly valuable because of their ability to think out of the box and adapt quickly. With the onset of the pandemic lockdown, our employees – especially the younger members of staff – made the shift to working remotely both swiftly and seamlessly.”

“It’s helpful to enlist young people to come up with ideas around green energy and the preservation of resources for the next generation. After all, their children will be the next generation and who better to ensure they have the resources they need to thrive?” asks Fidelis.

Research indicates that millennials and Gen-Z are not as interested in job titles as they are in moving into better work environments. EGP RSA prides itself on its ability to attract young people in numbers – a sure sign that is has created the right environment for them.

EGP RSA has also embraced one of Enel’s global initiatives, namely the Group’s four schools of learning: Business Development, Operations & Management, Commissioning and Engineering & Construction. Enel has partnered with different universities in Italy (Milan and other business schools) and come up with a globally accredited program for the advancement of its employees.

“The first program we took part in was the school of Business Development: about six of our South African employees now have master’s degrees in business development through an accredited university in Italy,” Fidelis says.

In June two EGP RSA employees graduated from the same program, which combines face-to-face learning in Italy with online learning and project work back in South Africa. Two other employees, who recently graduated from the School of Commissioning, fall into the under-35 age group.

Trenisha Singh, a graduate from the School of Business, enrolled at the School after having worked as a business developer at EGP RSA for more than six months. During the program, she was able to enhance her skills set and learn from EGP business development professionals from around the world.

Today, Singh’s job entails finding, analysing and realizing the potential of renewable energy opportunities and ensuring the successful development of projects. Building relationships with a variety of stakeholders – from landowners and authorities, to other players in the renewable sector – is an important part of her role.

Finally, EGP RSA’s mentorship program – From Leader to Coach – is designed for the company’s middle to senior management level staff, who attend leadership workshops and receive individual coaching sessions.

The program, which also focuses on nurturing emotional intelligence, enables leaders to change their mindset from traditional types of leadership thinking to embracing a coaching style of management. The focus here is for leaders to get their team members to solve problems for themselves, rather than having to do it for them.

At EGP RSA the internship contract is one year and we like to pride ourselves on the fact that we train our interns well enough so that we can hire them at the end of the contract. The ones we don’t hire usually find jobs elsewhere, so we are also preparing them for the world of work.

“We believe these initiatives and an open communication environment have made EGP RSA a great place to work. In addition to the sector we operate in, our focus on youth and women has set us apart from our competitors, and this is something that we are particularly proud of,” Fidelis says in conclusion.

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