Johannesburg – A few years ago, Thabo Ngwato’s job prospects looked bleak.

After graduating from high school, he started studying at the University of Johannesburg – but was forced to drop out when his mother retired and cash ran short.

For a year and a half he hung around his home in a poor township in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg, playing football with friends and occasionally making job applications in town.

He got no response – not a surprise in a country with one of the world’s most persistently high youth unemployment rates.

In South Africa, a record 5.5 million young people are searching for work unsuccessfully, many living in slums far from big employers.

But one day a friend mentioned to Ngwato he had found work through Harambee, a South African “youth employment accelerator” that links talent-hungry businesses with promising poor kids.

“The best description I’ve heard is that we’re a dating service and a finishing school,” said Lebo Nke, an executive at the Johannesburg-based social enterprise, which since 2011 has helped more than 50,000 youths find work, including Ngwato.

For the past two years, the 23-year-old has worked at a Johannesburg call centre, earning enough to support his mother and nephew. He recently bought his first car to speed up his three-minibus trip to work.

“I know how to network, look for employment. The skills are ones I can take anywhere,” he said.

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