For Victor Ntshitshongo, leading a coffee tasting at the Linbro Park Starbucks store for a group that included Starbucks chairman and chief executive officer Howard Schultz, was another in a series of transformative moments he’s experienced this year.
Born and raised in Alexandra Township, with widespread unemployment, the 21-year-old Johannesburg native is among the first trainees to complete Changing Lanes. The five-day program was developed by Taste Holdings and the nonprofit Khulisa Social Solutions to prepare unemployed South Africans for the workplace and help them find jobs.
Out of a working-age population of 38 million, 22 million South African citizens haven’t completed high school and eight million are jobless. Ntshitshongo faced those daunting employment statistics when he finished school, but Changing Lanes brought him to Starbucks, where he’s become one of the first wave of partners (employees) as the company arrives in the nation of 55 million people.
Starbucks and Taste Holdings, a South African-based management group that has partnered with Starbucks in the country, opened its first South African store on April 21 at the corner of Cradock Heights and Tyrwhitt Avenue in Johannesburg’s Rosebank neighborhood. At the Linbro Park store, Ntshitshongo conducted a coffee tasting and joined Schultz and other Starbucks Changing Lanes partners in an informal question-and-answer session.
‘He is my inspiration’
Ntshitshongo shares a home with his mother, sister and two nephews. His opportunity with Starbucks is a source of joy for his family.
“I’m very proud of him,” said his sister Nokwanda Ntshitshongo. “He is my inspiration because he grew up in a very difficult way.”
Nokwanda said her brother’s delight is apparent whenever he talks about his new job. “He said, ‘I have a family here,’” she recounted. “’Even my boss is not my boss. He is my partner.’ Every time he talks about his job, he lights up.”
Among Victor Ntshitshongo’s fellow partners at Starbucks is Solomon Makwela, another Changing Lanes alumni and someone Ntshitshongo considers a mentor. Makwela is one of nine new Starbucks partners who spent eight weeks in the United Kingdom receiving Changing Lanes instruction.
“Starbucks training is amazing,” said Makwela. “I got the opportunity to go to London for the first time ever in my life. I never thought I would go. Got great training. Great mentors and coaches. I feel fulfilled that I make a difference in somebody’s life.”
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity that Changing Lanes and Starbucks has given me,” said Ntshitshongo. “It’s one hell of a journey, I can say.”