How DSF and Shaper are marrying tech skills with workplace experience

For the past year, DSF and Shaper have partnered to provide young people with the training and workplace experience the local tech industry needs.

Johannesburg, 04 Jul 2024
Paulinah Teffu, CEO, Digital Solution Foundry.
Paulinah Teffu, CEO, Digital Solution Foundry.

When young people are looking to enter the job market, they are often presented with job posts that read something like this: “Entry-level job available, new graduates encouraged to apply! Minimum five years of experience required.” But how can university students and graduates get the experience they need to qualify for a position like this if no one is willing to give them a chance?

Addressing this conundrum was the impetus behind Shaper, formerly the Digital Academy, which looks to combat unemployment head-on by equipping Africa’s youth with highly employable and in-demand skills. According to Sammy-Jo Ferreira, Shaper talent and programme manager, the founders of the company launched Shaper because of their own struggles finding the skills they needed. “Before starting Shaper, they were running a start-up software development company that didn’t have the money to hire senior talent and, as such, would hire very junior, very green individuals. They would then spend months training them up so that they had the skills needed to actually add value to the business. But it wasn’t long before these newly trained employees were poached by bigger companies with bigger budgets,” she adds.

This experience showcased that there was a very real need for someone to build and develop the skills other companies are looking for. And Shaper was born. Keen to develop highly employable talent, Shaper training programmes are customised to meet client talent needs – be it for software development skills or contact centre support. But, as the job ad above illustrates, training isn’t enough. These young people also need workplace experience, which is where companies like Digital Solution Foundry (DSF) come in.

At DSF, the vision has always been to create sustainable and meaningful jobs, explains Paulinah Teffu, CEO at DSF. “As South Africans, we all know that unemployment is a serious issue, particularly among our young people, and we wanted to do something about it.” Working in the IT space, we kept seeing people with a keen interest in IT but who hadn’t had the necessary training or those who had finished university but had no idea how to interview for a job. “It was important for us to come up with a way to help these young people boost their credentials so that they can to add value in the job market, and Shaper was that catalyst for us.”

The relationship started about a year ago, with DSF bringing in eight young people as part of a workplace experience programme, Teffu continues. And all of these individuals were ultimately hired. “In our experience, all of the young people that have come through this programme not only have the technical skills that are required to meet IT business’ needs, but they also have important soft skills and a can-do attitude. Shaper affords us the opportunity to connect with young people who we otherwise might have missed because of limitations in how we recruit,” she says. To date, DSF has been able to offer 20 meaningful jobs through this partnership.

For the team at Shaper, training people up and ultimately getting them hired is the goal, which is why working with companies like DSF are so important, says Ferreira. “Partnerships like this are a fundamental part of the work we do. Even though we are building the skills the business world has told us are in demand, a lot of times businesses don't have the capacity or the budget to take these individuals on full-time,” she explains. “Which is why we need partners who are happy to open their doors and give these young people the workplace experience they need to further develop their newly acquired skills.”