French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian visited construction materials and infrastructure components multinational Saint-Gobain Construction Training Academy, in Germiston, Ekurhuleni, earlier this month, to inspect its work and its youth development partnership.
The Minister, who was accompanied by the ambassador of France to South Africa, Christophe Farnaud, toured the Construction Education and Training Authority-accredited facility, which trains local youths in the latest construction techniques and materials.
The academy partnered with US-based nongovernmental organisation YouthBuild in 2016. YouthBuild teaches the students life, business and social skills, in addition to practical construction skills, as a way of ensuring that they are prepared for work.
The youths are selected from the surrounding communities. Part of their practical training involves building and renovating community assets, which is aimed at ensuring sustainability of the programme and helping to uplift the local communities.
The 12-month programme includes drywall and ceiling installation, which includes safety, tools and the assembly of components; written and oral communication skills; applied mathematics, including calculating quantities and costings; and workplace skills, including tolerance, HIV/Aids education, first-aid basics and business plans.
Farnaud said corporate social responsibility initiatives were considered part of the French way of doing business, as evidenced by the initiatives of other French multinationals in South Africa, such as Schneider Electric and Alstom.
“It is important for businesses to play a positive role in the communities in which they operate to create trust and foster development, while ensuring environmental sustainability. We can make a difference if we ensure that our corporate initiatives are sufficient, rigorous and sustainable,” Le Drian explained through a French-English translator.
“We are pleased with what we saw here today and it is an example of the types of positive activities in response to the reality of communities.”
The academy has trained more than 1 000 youths, including more than 30 deaf students, over the past 15 years, with about 80% of all graduates having successfully started a business or found employment.
It provides training for 100 students a year, but receives more than 500 applications a year, says Saint-Gobain sub-Saharan Africa CEO Jean-Claude Lasserre.
Saint-Gobain YouthBuild Academy manager Matthew Baney notes that poverty, and especially youth unemployment, often have a negative social impact on communities and contribute to substance abuse and crime, as well as the marginalisation of people from the economy and broader society.
Therefore, character development is an important element of the programme to enable students and academy graduates to make positive contributions and changes in their communities.
The Youth Pledge that the students recite includes a strong element of community and personal activism, and uses the well-known isiZulu saying Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, which translates as ‘An individual is a person because of the community’.