Changing young lives one line of code at a time
by Ryan Berkowitz (People Operations Manager)
As the People Operations Manager at Global Kinetic, I am incredibly proud to share the success of our internship program. Over the past four years, we have achieved a remarkable milestone: offering each of our interns a permanent position within our company. By providing additional training and guidance, we are not only shaping their careers but also building a brighter future in an industry that desperately needs skilled and experienced professionals.
South Africa faces unique challenges
The 2022 JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey makes for depressing reading. South Africa continues to suffer a severe IT skills deficit with a widening skills gap across the sector, from data scientists and software developers to network analysts and security specialists.
But the South Africa skills challenge is a complex one. While we have some of the most talented and creative people on the planet, our education system is severely under-resourced with fewer and fewer young people interested in pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. What’s more, those that do graduate and gain just a few year’s experience are quickly snapped up by global companies taking advantage of remote work and a favourable currency exchange. And it’s not just remote working that is exacerbating our skills shortage, the JCSE-IITPSA report quotes stats that show 53% of university graduates and 43% of those earning more than R20 000 a month are considering immigrating.
Recently, the practice of quiet hiring has gained momentum. The practice is when organisations acquire skills without actually hiring new staff. This could either be through hiring short-term contractors, or more commonly, moving team members into different departments where their skills are needed. An example could be a data analyst working in the marketing department being shifted to the business analytics team.
While this may address short-term requirements, it is far from ideal. Teams are disrupted and more often than not team members still have to perform their usual roles as well as their new responsibilities. This has the potential to lead to burn-out and resentment, neither of which is good for the stability or profitability of a company.
Investing in longer-term solutions
Global Kinetic has obviously been impacted by the IT skills deficit. But rather than looking for a stop-gap solution, we decided to invest in a long-term solution that would not only help us as an organisation, but that would also make a difference in our local communities.
Creating internships was the logical path for the company. There was a strong sense from management, as well as our teams, that it fitted neatly into two of our core values: “Care and Support” and “Be a good citizen of the universe”.
However, there are many stories of failed internship programmes and since we wanted to get it right from the start, we chose to work with an organisation called Life Choices.
Together, we designed a one year learnership programme. Our interns spend six months at Life Choices Academy learning theory. The following six months are spent at the company where we start the practical implementation and learning of the syllabus. After the practical element, each intern needs to complete a practical assessment and, once passed, we are confident enough to offer a permanent role within our software development teams.
Challenges aren’t insurmountable when you have the right people
Working in a high-pressure environment, like software engineering, means teams are constantly facing tight deadlines and expectations of excellence. This doesn’t naturally create a space where team members can easily give of their time to help with an intern’s training.
Fortunately, as an organisation we place significant emphasis on training and development and have nurtured a culture of continuous learning that extends from the most junior team members to our CEO. This sort of mindset has transcended naturally to the internship programme.
We are now in the fourth iteration of the programme and it has grown organically since its inception.
One of our biggest learnings has been to integrate all interns into our project teams almost immediately. They attend all ceremonies that take place over a sprint, and are required to do nothing other than listen, observe and ask questions.
We have also built our own curriculum that focuses on agile methodologies and principles, and for the first few months the focus is purely on theoretical work before actively working on the project. By giving them the space to really get to grips with what we do without any pressure, we build more confident individuals. At the end of the practical training and technical assessment the interns qualify as junior technologists and are then active members of their project teams.
Every year that goes by brings new learnings and, while there have been challenges along the way, the reward has gone far beyond 19 new, well-trained individuals. Our teams have also benefited from the experience. So much so that we aim to work with the Department of Education to try and get our programme NQF aligned and qualified. This will mean we can expand and grow the programme, allowing more talent to be uncovered and hopefully even inspire other companies to join us.