With South Africa’s unemployment rate hovering around 27% (among the highest in the world), job creation and skills development have arguably become critical to SA’s economic and social stability. Fortunately, many business leaders and decision-makers are heeding the call.
In March 2019, at the Premier’s Council on Skills event in the Western Cape, Premier Helen Zille acknowledged redPanda Software’s immense contribution to skills development – honouring the forward-thinking IT company with an Employer's Recognition Award. Notably, the Premier’s Award recognizes redPanda Software as having “played an influencing role in opening up gainful workplace-based training opportunities” as well as effectively leveraging funds to promote skills development.
“It’s a great honour to have received this acknowledgement from the Premier,” says Gareth Hawkey, Group CEO, redPanda Software. “We have been fully committed to skills development over the past several years and it has been intensely rewarding to see the very positive and tangible results of our efforts.”
A Partnership Approach
Since 2010, redPanda Software has implemented an internship programme whereby the company takes on 10 learners (unemployed graduates) for 12-month internships. Most of these internships receive MICT SETA funding, although redPanda Software has self-fund other interns. To date, the company has taken on over 70 interns, and remarkably, 99% of these interns remained at the company (and work there today!). According to Hawkey, some of the company’s top developers started out as interns.
“This uniquely high retention rate can arguably be attributed to our recruitment process,” notes Hawkey. “We follow a very stringent and rigorous process, whereby we select our interns with very specific skills and roles in mind. Importantly, we take on each intern with the intention of him or her becoming an integral part of the company – in other words, with the vision of a long term commitment and prosperous working relationship.”
Mentoring the Mentors
In addition to the initial recruitment process, what differentiates redPanda Software’s approach to interns is the company’s selection – and support of – mentors. redPanda Software prepares its selected mentors by sending them on mentor training courses that are NQF aligned. In addition, the company has partnered with experts to spearhead training initiatives and one-on-one coaching sessions – for example, the "Manage Others" Programme with Jenny Lang.
Beyond these initiatives, redPanda Software actively sends staff to other key training programmes: these include technical, skills and short courses ranging from project management, OHS, Fire Fighting, First Aid, Management Training, CompTIA Network, MTA: Microsoft Technology Associate, MCSA: Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate, Office 365 Technical Workshop, to name a few.
“We also place great emphasis on networking and forming key partnerships, and we are, for example, affiliated to the Apprenticeship Game Changer programme with the Department of Economic Development and Tourism at the Western Cape Government,” says Hawkey.
Other partnership initiatives include participating in job shadowing and volunteering at Career Awareness days at high schools, colleges and universities.
“Fundamentally, any success within skills development and job creation requires vision and buy-in from leadership,” adds Hawkey. “It has to start at the top, with leaders acknowledging the immense value that youngsters can bring – and the many long term benefits of actively investing in our youth.”