T-Systems drives employment opportunities, social upliftment, service excellence for rural youth and women
T-Systems’ partnership with the Hazyview Digital Learning Centre – evolving to become a unique “rural near-shoring” success story.
The month of June in South Africa is known as Youth Month. It is often during this period that the country’s focus shifts to the blooming generation. Young learners, graduates, the unemployed and unskilled in particular, who aspire to be employed in jobs that are fulfilling, sustainable and make a difference to their lives and those of their families, get a chance during this period to be at the forefront of our nation’s agenda – skills upliftment and job creation.
It is often during this time that companies and government come together and talk about initiatives that help our youth.
Creating sustainable educational and employment projects for South Africa’s youth is no easy task. Yet T-Systems South Africa has managed to do so through a few collaborative initiatives that upskill previously disadvantaged youngsters through education in a sustainable manner as part of its support of the National Development Plan (NDP). While combating unemployment and poverty, these projects are also designed to help entrench South Africa as a globally recognised, and sought-after, economic force for the Digital Age.
Dineo Molefe, MD at T-Systems South Africa, explains: “Because we are looking for a long-term solution to the shortage of skills and jobs in South Africa, we made sure that our Nation Building Initiative is aligned with the NDP – with its aim of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030. We focus on empowering people and businesses through sustainable projects that promote education, skills development, job creation and entrepreneurship. We are planning ahead for the future, but starting now with the foundations to build it.”
One of T-Systems’ success stories is the extension of its current Service Desk, which was situated in Midrand, to Hazyview, by utilising talent and skills developed by the Hazyview Digital Learning Centre (HDLC). The HDLC is structured as an “ecosystem of learning and working”, and the on-site Hazyview Service Desk delivers the working component, creating job opportunities for the campus’s young graduates.
The Service Desk started as a proof of concept in 2016 with four agents, utilising skills from the Campus’s post-bridging IT Academy. They are all fully qualified Level 1 ICT Support Engineers from the local area of Hazyview. In 2018, the facility was expanded to cater for 28 agents that could take advantage of cloud technologies and local skills in a first-of-its-kind “rural near-shoring” set-up in South Africa, which supports the surrounding population and keeps outsourcing in the country.
Yet this story is long in the making and starts off with an alliance between T-Systems and the Goodwork Foundation (GWF) in 2012 when HDLC in Mpumalanga was established. Education was the key goal of this alliance, but they believed that for education to be truly effective, it must translate into practical employment.
According to Stats South Africa Quarterly Labour Force Survey for Q1 2019, of the 20.3 million young people aged 15-34 years, 40.7% were not in employment, education or training (NEET).
In largely rural provinces like Mpumalanga, the youth are traditionally even worse off, as they face unemployment rates higher than the national average.
The Statistics South Africa Report for 2011 – just a year before T-Systems’ arrival – paints a picture of Hazyview, like so many other rural towns in South Africa, as a town in distress. Made up of largely young people, with 39.8% having higher education and only 33.8% having Matric, but little employment prospects in the area. The only chance of survival means leaving the town and relocating to “urban areas” in search of greener pastures.
Youth unemployment is a serious issue that has major repercussions for the future of South Africa. A lack of quality education, which incorporates the understanding and use of technology, as well as the chronic skills shortage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) are the top two factors aggravating youth unemployment. Another factor is the issue of qualifications that do not talk to the scarce and critical skills needed by the job sector.
On top of this, the world now requires digitally literate people equipped with skills to navigate the connected world, but there are barriers to young South Africans gaining this knowledge, resulting in them facing a future of unemployment, especially if they live outside urban centres.
Having already established the T-Systems ICT Academy in Johannesburg in 2003, with the goal of addressing skills shortages and gender inequality in the local sector, T-Systems South Africa donated funds towards the construction of the GWF’s Hazyview Digital Learning Centre (HDLC) in the peri-urban village of Shabalala, in 2013. To support the HDLC’s crucial work in bridging the digital divide, T-Systems also provided and set up the Internet-connected computer facilities, smart screens and other equipment central to the centre.
The Hazyview Digital Learning Centre implements three progressive stages of education and training:
1. The Open Learning Academy: Partners with rural primary schools, allowing them to outsource digital, English and mathematics literacy to HDLC. This has been set up as a continuous programme that supports rural learners from grade four onwards. Additional subjects include conservation, coding and robotics.
2. The Bridging Academy: Creates an access bridge between school and work or further educational training, preparing rural school leavers for life in modern business environments.
3. Career-Training Academies: Bridging Academy graduates can apply to advanced Career-Training Academies and programmes that respond to the needs of the community in which the campus is located. The first Career-Training Academy that was set up at the HDLC was the IT Academy, followed shortly after by the Travel & Tourism Academy. This innovative training model enables each Career Training Academy to be linked to an enterprise established in partnership with an industry leader. The purpose of the enterprise is to employ graduates and fund the learning programmes, resulting in the creation of a sustainable and lasting social enterprise.
Today, the HDLC provides supplementary digital literacy, English and ready-to-work skills to 5 000 school learners every week, via its Open Learning Academy, and over 1 000 young school leavers have graduated from the Bridging Academy and Career-Training Academies for adults.
Continuing its six-year relationship with HDLC, T-Systems South Africa has invested heavily in this project. The T-systems teams worked side-by-side with the centre’s staff and IT Academy students to provide hands-on experience. T-Systems also assisted with staff upskilling, focusing especially on trainers who could pass their knowledge on to future trainees.
The next phase of HDCL was to create yet another sustainable initiative – Hazyview Service Desk – that would not only provide employment to youth in rural areas that struggle to find employment, but also create an environment that would promote commercial opportunities in South Africa that are often outsourced to other countries. T-Systems South Africa uses the Hazyview Service Desk, together with its facility in Midrand, to provide a single point of contact for IT support to over 55 clients.
An unquestionable success, the Hazyview Service Desk has demonstrated impressive savings for T-Systems’ clients who use it, due to the lower operational costs linked to its remote physical location. At the same time, clients enjoy world-class service from motivated employees – all while supporting rural job creation and rural ICT skills development.
In addition to interacting with T-Systems South Africa clients, the Hazyview Service Desk has secured clients of its own. Of significance is the Youth Employment Service (YES), a high-profile initiative designed to create jobs for young previously disadvantaged South Africans and support their career aspirations. The Hazyview Service Desk facility is currently leveraged to provide call centre services for the YES programme, employing local youth as part of the programme, thereby “paying it forward”.
As the Hazyview Service Desk grows as a rural near-shoring solution, more profits will be recycled back into the Digital Learning Centre as a whole. Currently, 3%-5% of HDLC’s operations costs are covered by the Service Desk’s income, and when the latter expands to its planned 200-agent capacity, the Service Desk will cover up to 80% of the campus’s annual budget.
The overarching success of the HDLC has also contributed to a number of awards for both T-Systems and GWF, earning acclaim for its pioneering model. T-Systems has won multiple Gender Mainstreaming awards in more than one category over a number of years, and was the recipient of the Vision 2030 Award in 2018 for successfully demonstrating alignment to government’s Nine-Point Plan to boost economic growth, and achieve the milestones set by the NDP.
In addition to GWF winning the 2017 Regional (Africa) Award at the Wharton-QS Stars Reimagine Education Awards, the initiative also won bronze in the sustainability, silver in the regional (Africa), and gold in the engineering and technology categories in 2018 from the same organisation.
Good Work Foundation now employs 111 full-time staff from the communities in which it works, with a massive 72% of the total staff comprising women, and 80% of the management made up of women. Seventy-one percent of a 2018 Bridging Academy graduate cohort went on to secure a further-study opportunity, a work exposure opportunity or a full-time job. The preponderance of “women in tech” is also increasing. Thirty-six percent of Hazyview Service Desk agents are made up of women, a major improvement since the beginning of the project.
The HDLC delivers its Open Learning programme to nine primary schools, with principals and teachers repeatedly attesting improvements of the learners and schools to the innovative self-organised learning environments that are set up by community-recruited and trained digital facilitators. Mrs Sithole, a grade 7 English teacher from Mpunzana Primary School, has been especially impressed by the improvement in reading for meaning:
She says: “My learners have developed effective communication by reading digital stories from tablets. I also now read with them, which entirely influenced the way I teach the learners. Using tablets has improved and changed their concentration and ability to perform tasks in English.“
Pierre Jansen van Rensburg, DSM Expert: Support & Enabling Service Desk at T-Systems South Africa, has the final word on the simultaneous macro and micro level benefits of projects like the HDLC and its Service Desk. “We can’t underestimate the socioeconomic impact this has, as well as the psychological impact, as people now have access to a world of new opportunities.”
Molefe concludes: “We are proud to partner on an innovative initiative that drives knowledge sharing and skills development in local communities that need it most – all while adding value to clients’ operations. It forms part of our goal to create sustainable projects that empower our youth and resonates with our Nation Building Initiative that is tied into the NDP vision for 2030. It truly embodies our shared value of ‘in South Africa, for South Africa'.”
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