Pieter Geldenhuys, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Cape Town, South Africa, is founder of Luxury Safaris, which offers once-in-a-lifetime and bespoke safari adventures in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. As EO increases its efforts to make an impact by supporting the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals, we asked Pieter how his Tourism Boot Camp, which trains disadvantaged youth ages 18-25, is closing the gap between South Africa's high unemployment rate and the need for talented tourism and hospitality operators. Here's what he shared.

What inspired you to create Tourism Boot Camp?

One of my key employees today struggled for three years to get a job in the industry after graduating from tourism college. When I interviewed her, she needed a lot more training―I lucked out by seeing the raw potential underneath. Her success inspired me: There are lots of recent graduates and young people with the talent, but not the opportunity, because those doing the hiring are not digging deeper.

Boot Camp was born simply because I believe we can be the bridge. Our values-based onboarding approach can be universally applied in the service and tourism sector. We have created a structured, four-week training program, staffed in-house by my team with assistance from industry partners. We can't hire all of the people who go through our program, but why not give them the initial training anyway and then source them to clients, suppliers and associated businesses?

It is labor intensive, costly and constantly distracts us―but the members of my team are inspired by it, we love that we are making a difference, and we believe in the spirit of abundance.

How will training tourism operators impact your community?

The global war for talent is real. And in South Africa, it is especially acute. With 65 percent unemployment in the 18-to-25 age bracket and over a million skilled job vacancies, the math doesn't make sense. The gap is filled by foreign nationals in short-term internships, which is nonsensical.

Our program aims to upskill and place local youth in long-term opportunities which might otherwise be filled by short-term foreign interns.

Young people from disadvantaged communities--even if they have studied for a college diploma or equivalent in tourism--still need physical access to travel opportunities as well as basic IT and communication skills to make the leap into the right career track. Our primary educational system fails us, so it's up to civil society and individual companies to upskill raw talent.

South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world, but we have the skills and resources to fix it.

What are the three biggest challenges in this venture?

1.      Funding

To date, Boot Camp is 100 percent funded by me. We tap friends in the industry who volunteer their time and resources, but without external funding and sustainable industry support, it is hard. I recently registered Tourism Boot Camp as a stand-alone non-profit, which will enable a public/private funding model and collaborative ventures. By 2020, it will be an integrated training institution, serving as a home for likeminded businesses to facilitate skills transfer, with modules in consulting, guiding and hospitality front-of-house, among others.

2.      You can lead the horse to water...

Finding youth with not only the talent but also the inherent hunger and determination to push through the initial workplace hardships and school fees is fundamentally difficult in an environment that has practically become a welfare state. Breaking through class barriers is challenging.

3.      Silo mentality

Everyone tries to go it alone. Sharing resources is not a top priority for most folks in our industry, especially when it comes to developing talent. But our model encourages cooperation and shared resources, a core value of EO. Imprinting an abundance mentality is going to take a while.

What positive outcomes have you seen?

We've held five Boot Camps since 2017, and 20 percent of interns who completed the program have attained full-time employment, while 10 percent of our graduates have received "employee of the year" or "newcomer of the year" accolades within their first year of employment in the industry.

Additionally, our clients love that we get involved in this way, my staff members are motivated, and I know that we are chipping away at a bigger problem. Our core business, Luxury Safaris, will grow its revenue by 50 percent this year. Coincidence? I think not.

What have you learned along this journey?

Cash is king. While I have a passion for teaching, and I think I'm pretty good at it, the show must go on. The year 2018 was a horrible one for Cape Town's tourism industry, especially with the water crisis. Conversely, it was the year we started gaining traction with Boot Camp. I run into our former interns at industry shows, tourism hot spots and social events―and although commercially it was dismal, socially and morally, 2018 was our best year ever.

I consider myself to be true to my calling. We are all born with a unique gift, and if you don't share it with as many people as possible, you are not living your true purpose. I am a teacher, so that's what I'm doing. I figured out what my gift is, and how I can leverage it to enhance my business and then leverage my business to have a broader impact. I sleep well at night as a result.

Published on: Apr 23, 2019
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