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News > Fast-tracking IT Graduates for the Workplace

From IT Web Brainstorm - www.brainstormmag.co.za

Transformation is a much vaunted term which either results in a restrictive quota approach or a strategy of business-case compliance. Faced with the challenge of how to affect transformation and recruit qualified previously disadvantaged individuals into its core workplace, Shoden Data Systems took on what seemed to be an impossible project and started up the Shoden Academy.

Sponsored by Shoden Data Systems, the Academy aimed to take individuals who already had IT diplomas and coach them on the skills and information needed to fast-track them into the workplace so that they could use their talent and expertise to more rapidly work to capacity at their full fast-tracking it graduates for the workplace potential. Dee Cranswick, Employee Relations Unit manager for Shoden Data Systems, says: "We are looking for certified engineers as opposed to entrylevel positions."

She explains that the Academy differs from other programmes in that it adds on to all the areas that students haven't had any exposure to in their diplomas, which gives them a broader understanding of the sector. This, she says, allows people to find out what they are passionate about and move up in the industry quickly. Cranswick adds that formal education programmes focus on theoretical knowledge, but graduates often lack the ability to apply what they studied, which makes finding employment difficult. "This programme strongly focuses on application," she says.

The two-year programme provides training from an IT perspective as well as life and business skills. It kicked off in 2007 with just 14 carefully selected, previously disadvantaged individuals. After the first year, the majority were lost to formal employment in the marketplace, but the remaining four students went on to graduate and are now employed by Shoden.

Shoden Data Systems fully sponsors the Academy.

It pays for the courses and provides a subsistence allowance for students. Cranswick explains that the philosophy is that graduates should enrol into the work-bridging programme because it is really what they want to do and not merely because they can't find work. "We want people to apply for the programme because they are committed to further experiential training rather than because they want to earn a salary."

The course includes business and life skills like presentation skills, project management, conflict resolution, problem-solving and communication, to name a few. On the IT side, students are taught general computer-related skills and various aspects of hardware like storage, backup data, server maintenance and data systems, as well as software, including programming. As the students have diplomas in different fields, they are encouraged to teach their colleagues about their specific field to build on their teamwork abilities. If they pass the first year, they are interned by Shoden, giving them exposure to the 'real working IT world'. The Academy has partnered with SETA , making this a regulated internship.

The courses are facilitated by both internal and external instructors. The soft skills are taught by SETA - accredited instructors while the technical aspects are more experiential and therefore facilitated by Shoden engineers, who are certified instructors.

Cranswick says that while the Academy can't promise employment to everyone, it does assist its graduates in finding employment by helping them put a collection of their work together and opening doors for them. "We are being asked by clients for graduates," she adds.

Shoden supports its clients' critical business applications and finding the necessary expertise to do this is difficult. Cranswick says the Academy provides a meaningful way to get young people to a level where they can be introduced to clients' environment without risk to the client.

According to Cranswick, the Shoden Academy has been satisfying and gratifying to see. "It is the most amazing feeling to see people realise their potential and once they are through the doors, they do so well," she adds. This has been the reward for Shoden and proved that it is not just about the company's BE scorecard. Cranswick says: "Where the Academy has been successful is that it gives the graduates the confidence to represent themselves at a client's premises."

Makgotso Mokgatle was one of the first graduates at the Academy and is now working for Shoden as a systems engineer. She says she found the soft skills most helpful as these are not taught anywhere else. She says: "I knew that if I took the opportunity, it would work and it did work for me."

Currently an intern at the Shoden Academy, Douglas Mashego says the programme is both interesting and challenging. He says the most useful part for him so far has been going out to meet with clients as well as using systems of international standards. With a background in programming, the Academy has helped him realise that the career he wants to follow is that of a storage technician.

"We have discovered what is required to move from formal education to the workplace and I'm confident that we got it right," says Cranswick, adding that she would like to see more people being brought into the programme but didn't see it expanding beyond 15 new entrants a year so as to ensure the personal attention required to ensure the success of the programme.

She says the programme is constantly being improved and has become so well-known among graduates that it is the first choice for internships. Graduates are selected after a rigorous interviewing process. The Academy looks for graduates with the right attitude as the programme comprises long hours of learning, mentoring and generally hard work.

Cranswick says critical areas that are still underdeveloped in South Africa are skills and job creation. "We are contributing to people's capabilities so that they are no longer victims of circumstance but that they have the confidence to create life solutions that are of benefit to both themselves and their communities."

The Academy aims to teach and train its students so that when they walk out of it they can "do and not just talk". Once graduated from the full workbridging programme, graduates can continue to participate in further learning by enrolling in the open courses focusing on specific IT skills like operating systems, software languages and top end specialised Hitachi Data Systems Administrator courses.

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