Absa
Absa. Image source: Behance

Absa has partnered with local training NGO WeThinkCode_(WTC_) to probe the transformation of South Africa’s digital skills landscape by focusing on practical ways of reforming youth employability.

Together, they are rewriting the future of technology students by focusing on candidate selection and matching, a demand-led curriculum, retention and ultimately the employment of graduates. This collaboration looks beyond potential candidates being strong in maths and science, for example, to see if they show other aptitudes for coding and programme design.

The relationship between Absa and WeThinkCode_ has deepened since they first partnered in 2016 and the collaboration is tailored to become increasingly aligned to the skills needed within the job market. The banking group now sponsors 60 out of the 300 annual WeThinkCode_ students.

“As a top investor in higher education in South Africa, Absa has applied a more rigorous approach to how we fund projects, now tracking the success of students we support, from initial application to curriculum through to finding employment,” says Makano Morojele, Head of Education Reform and Employability at Absa.

Historically, Absa has invested hugely in higher education in South Africa, including making the largest private sector contribution to universities during the Fees Must Fall crisis.

“Over the past four years Absa has invested millions on education and skills development,  supporting thousands of students in South Africa across 22 Universities, in various fields of study,” Marojele says.

Commenting on WeThinkCode_’s partnership with Absa, Nyari Samushonga, CEO of WeThinkCode_ says: ”As we’ve grown together, so has the candidate selection model. This now looks at potential students who don’t necessarily have maths and science skills (more obvious to programming), but perhaps have high literacy in pattern recognition, problem solving or analytical skills – all of which can be applied to programming.”

Other attributes sought after in successful candidates include curiosity as well as their ability to collaborate.

“What distinguishes Absa as a funding partner is their hands-on approach. They’re deeply involved in the design of WeThinkCode ‘s syllabus programme as well, ensuring that the skills being taught are relevant to the market. Plus, there’s an added awareness of the importance of mentoring and support, critical for some young students because of the gaps in their secondary education,” Samushonga adds.

The success of having a focused selection process and practical syllabus yields real results, with a 98% employment rate among WeThinkCode_’s programming graduates, at average annual starting salaries of R240 000.

“Our course has been structured to meet the needs of South Africa’s corporate environment while bringing the best out of our selected candidates,” Samushonga adds.

Absa is intent on making education more relevant and they are expanding this partnership model with the aim of taking it into many different business sectors and involving input from them to ensure that the training being funded is relevant to the needs of the market.

Their focus also addresses the high fall-out rate of students; finding ways to create the momentum needed to keep young people engaged in their studies, to ensure that they graduate and beyond, to being employed.

“Our big picture is to align private and public sector skills needs with those offered at public institutions so that our syllabus mechanisms are in sync,” Morojele says.

“We have a huge unemployment crisis and both the public and private sector institutions need to be able to scale education at pace.  To this end, we want our model to influence the wider South African post school education and training policy, bringing about a shift in learning focus and channels. We feel the work we’ve been doing can influence our public institution policies to help them gear-up to what the market actually needs,” she adds.

In some instances, such as the field of human resources, there are too many graduates for the limited positions available in the job market and Absa are committed to focusing on skills which are needed and are sustainable for both students and the South African economy.

Morojele also speaks passionately about what she calls, “The coalition of the willing,” as she acknowledges, “Absa can’t do it alone. We need willing partners and like-minded institutions on board. The only way to accelerate employment is for us to form a coalition between the private sector and our public institutions. Absa has demonstrated a successful working model, which we will be implementing in other sectors, such as agriculture.”

This demand-driven approach implemented by Absa and WeThinkCode_ combines the importance of holistic education and labour market relationship-building, which is more critical than ever, as Covid-19 has accelerated the need to address both the shortage of digital skills and unemployment in South Africa.

“It’s time to shift into new ways of thinking, embrace the coalition of the willing and accelerate demand-led skills development,” Morojele concludes.

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