NOTE: This article is an update to a post made last year, found here.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, South Africa currently has a 25 percent unemployment rate, with nearly 50 percent being youth between the ages of 15 and 25. To help combat this issue and provide jobs, specifically for skilled labourers, Charles Maisel developed an NGO called FUNDI. The name comes from the Zulu word ‘umfundi,’ which means ‘learner,’ and specifically refers to someone who is an expert in their respective field. The group was first developed to provide aid to “Men on the Side of the Road” (the original name of the group), who are day labourers that wait for anyone to hire them at extremely low wages to provide physical work for short periods.
Since its creation in 2001, FUNDI has expanded to include both male and female workers from a variety of disciplines. The skills are still focused within the labour market and include painters, bricklayers, gardeners, maids and cooks. FUNDI offers a variety of services to these day labourers, most importantly a resume and reference system. The workers are constantly evaluated by people who hire them, and within the FUNDI system itself, to ensure that highest quality is offered for hire.
Once applicants complete the basic training that FUNDI provides them, including basic interpersonal training to ensure a professional work environment, their skills become verified, which solidifies their reputation within the program. This allows employers to see that their skills are of a high enough quality to be trusted. After jobs are completed, workers are evaluated, which either boosts or lowers their rating and affects future employment throughout the program. These profiles are made available for the public to contract them for projects. By assessing and accrediting their work, FUNDI is helping promote day labourers skills and experience in a reliable manner.
What is most innovative about this program is that it helps hard-working day labourers advertise themselves to the public in a system that promotes reliability. While there is no guarantee that workers will find a job everyday, their names are put out on the market, and those looking to hire are aware of who is available. This has helped create a network for day-labourers and boosted employment rates, albeit sometimes precarious ones. But FUNDI’s positive reputation has allowed for larger contract jobs to grow. Small businesses and government groups have begun to contract FUNDI workers for larger projects, which has guaranteed longer term positions for some workers. The municipal government in Cape Town has used FUNDI workers to build new cobblestone roads. Another company called Mr. Price has hired FUNDI workers for a job-project in the clothing and housewares business, which has been funded by a government grant and will help create 150,000 jobs by the end of this year.
Unfortunately, the program doesn’t offer much training for unskilled workers. Those without employable skills are overlooked for more experienced individuals. Another gap in FUNDI’s program is that it may not offer its members an ability to escape from physical labour and seek another career path. However, FUNDI claims to have thousands of workers who are otherwise unemployed, so their main focus is finding them work rather than providing skills-training and creating more skilled-labourers when there aren’t enough jobs on the market to employ them all. FUNDI has developed a remarkable program that offers a unique service to unskilled workers to professionalize their skills and experience.
FUNDI also runs a number of different campaigns to help their workers gain the necessary materials to actually work. One is a tools campaign in which people can donate used tools for labourers to use. This helps support employees who have the skills, but not necessarily the physically tools, to get jobs done. They also collect work clothes, such as gloves and overalls, and used vehicles so employees can get to and from worksites.