Between December 2021 and February 2022, the Coega Development Corporation (CDC) welcomed 50 unemployed ICT graduates into an eight-month internship programme to gain ICT industry experience.
Since the programme’s commencement, several interns have moved on to secure gainful employment, emphasising the value of relevant work experience in the eyes of prospective employers.
Craig Luckman, CDC Human Capital Solutions Programme Manager, explains that the practical ICT experience acquired during the interns’ relatively short tenure at the CDC, places them in good stead to secure meaningful employment opportunities in the short term. In addition, there is an expectation that some of these interns will flourish as entrepreneurs within the ICT sector.
“The experience I’ve acquired at Coega puts me at an advantage to elevate and be the professional I want to be,” says ICT graduate intern, Khulasande Mzamane.
The MICT SETA ICT Graduate Programme is funded by the Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT SETA) and facilitated by the CDC.
To ensure that the workplace experience the interns gain is specific enough to their core competencies, the CDC contracted the Nelson Mandela University School of IT to deliver the technical mentoring component alongside the CDC ICT managers.
“Applied competence, not theoretical knowledge, is what unlocks the door to employment,” explains Meike Wetsch, who heads the CDC’s Capital and Funding Office and is also the Project Sponsor.
University lecturers deployed on the Programme can see precisely what competence is required in the workplace, which in turn provides a valuable feedback loop into our training system to overcome mismatches between our national skills demand and supply.
The Director of the Nelson Mandela University School of IT, Dr Sue Petratos serves on the project steering committee to keep a close watch on the programme outcomes.
Karen Church, lead technical mentor and ICT curriculum designer explains: “The curricula of the ICT qualifications at tertiary education institutions have been designed to focus on the different specialisations and current trends within the ICT industry. There have been advances in a number of fields, including robotics, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, quantum computing, blockchain, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, data science and fifth-generation wireless technologies.
“The CDC and its investors are at the cutting edge of these technologies and as we deploy the interns to work on these, it becomes clear very quickly where additional training is needed with respect to the newer technologies and where university curricula need to be updated or expanded. We have already made a few changes to the Nelson Mandela University ICT curricula.”
By deploying lecturers as technical mentors, several research opportunities have been identified, and the CDC is supporting this work in many ways. The interns themselves are undertaking projects of substance. These include supporting the CDC’s large data centres, working on a digital migration of an entire enterprise management system, and contributing to the development of enhanced customs and logistics systems in a custom secured area.
Others are developing a derivative of the CDC’s Capital and Funding Office’s virtual deal room system to develop a system capable of providing secure and on-demand access to medical information that underpins a remote health delivery system across borders on the African Continent.
Originally, three interns were working on the aforementioned system, which led to one being recruited by a well-known financial institution. She will be specialising in fintech based on her experience with Coega, while the other two have decided to spin out a start-up project, and with the assistance of the CDC’s Capital Office, have already reached out to prospective investors and buyers.
The virtual deal room project is led by intern Abby Vorster. Having had to overcome serious health and disability issues, Abby is flourishing in the extremely fast-paced world that is the Coega Capital Office.
“Having Coega and this project on my CV is such a good backing as I build a market for my software and when I start applying for jobs,” says Abby.
Shane Mugwena, Abby’s teammate, who specialises in data analytics, will design the predictive capability of the system.
ICT graduate intern, Zimkhitha Nongomaza, is currently working on a Project Management Dashboard for the CDC Business Development Unit to track the CDC’s international SEZ investment project progression.
“A valuable skill I’ve gained from this internship is the ability to speak in a professional setting. This skill will help me when I’m interviewing for jobs,” she says.
“The type of exposure the interns receive here places them at an advantage once they move on. The nicest part about working with them is sharing in their enthusiasm,” says Crevlyn Edgar, CDC ICT Operations Manager who developed a workplace programme for the group of interns stationed at the CDC Business Centre.
Owetu Rula, intern on Crevlyn’s team shares: “My favourite part is getting to open computers up, take them apart, find the problem, and put them back together.”
“This is a call to action to other businesses to do more. These graduate interns represent the top 3% of our youth. This is the layer that will lead our economy and create jobs for their peers – as such, their training has to be different.
“We expect them to solve problems and create value, and they have shown us they can. Of course, talent only needs the right place to flourish – and here at Coega we have that ecosystem,” says Meike Wetsch.
According to MICT SETA Regional Manager, Andile Nene, “the partnership between MICT SETA and the CDC has proven to be impactful in addressing critical skills shortages by transferring industry-aligned skills in high demand to the youth of our province.
“The acquired industry-aligned skills improve the interns’ chances of employability which greatly contributes to the alleviation of poverty in the Eastern Cape.”