A year ago, Storm Brown, 18, had little hope of continuing his education after high school, and thought it unlikely he’d be employed and on a career track any time soon. Today, however, he’s already spent three months in a paid internship, which has since been extended to a 12-month fixed term contract, at Cape Town-based custom software development house DVT, thanks to the Western Cape Government and Oracle’s Java Post-matric Programme.
The Java Post-matric Programme launched this year, with the goal of getting young coders ready for the corporate world as soon as possible after leaving school. The 37 students in this year’s cohort graduated on 5 October 2016 and are currently completing six-month internships with leading digital companies in the Western Cape.
The post-matric programme is funded by Oracle Academy; the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism; and the Media, Information and Communications Technology Sector Education and Training Authority (MICT SETA).
“This initiative showcases what we can achieve through partnerships between the public and private sectors,” says Provincial Minister of Economic Opportunities Alan Winde. “The Western Cape Government has selected skills as a game-changer, with significant potential to grow the economy. This programme is playing an important role in delivering skills in the tech industry to our young people. They’re receiving the valuable on-the-job experience they need to start their careers.”
In 2016, On the Ball College and CapaCiTi implemented the programme, with On the Ball College delivering Java training to the participants, and CapaCiTi helping the students develop their business and professional skills.
The post-matric programme builds on an existing in-school programme, launched by Oracle Academy, the Western Cape Department of Education, and the Western Cape Department of Economic Development and Tourism in 2014 to fill a gap in computing education. As part of the programme, over the past two years Oracle Academy and the Western Cape Department of Education trained 160 teachers in teaching Java, using Oracle Academy’s Alice and Greenfoot workshops, and the full academic curriculum in Java Fundamentals and Java Programming.
This is where it all started for Brown: he signed up for the in-school Java training programme for grades 11 and 12 when he was a learner at the Cape Academy of Mathematics, Science and Technology in Cape Town.
“Java is one of the most in demand coding skills around the world, and South Africa is no different. We are failing our learners if we don’t get them excited about the potential to create with Java,” says Provincial Minister of Education Debbie Schafer. “Through our school programme and now this post-matric extension, we are equipping school leavers for the working world, and giving them the best tools to innovate and solve problems using technology.”
Brown was hooked on Java from day one, to such an extent that his other IT grades rose dramatically and stayed high for the rest of his school career. “The world is moving faster and faster towards technology and we have to adapt,” he says. “I fell in love with Java because it is the leading scripting language in Africa and around the world, supported by a big company, and used in everything from cellphones to TVs.”
“Oracle Academy’s mission is to advance computer science education,” says Jane Richardson, senior director, Oracle Academy EMEA. “This means we aim to help teachers build their computing knowledge and pedagogical skills, and then support them as they share their new or expanded expertise in computer science with students. In this case, we focused on Java to help grow student interest in programming and hopefully also a career in computing.”
“The skills we teach students through Oracle Academy and the Java Post-matric Programme are essential skills needed to boost the tech industry in South Africa,” says Wendy Beetge, transformation director at Oracle. “It’s been truly wonderful witnessing the growth in these students over the past few years – from knowing very little about coding when we started the school programme in 2014, to developing into skilled, confident and employable junior Java programmers by the end of the post-matric programme, ready for the challenges in a tech workplace.”
Training partner, On The Ball College is an Oracle Academy Partner and WDP (Work Development Programme) Partner with Oracle University, and has been running accredited training with MICT SETA for 10 years. The youth involved will benefit from this as they will receive accredited training that is aligned to the NQF, as well as industry needed scarce skills through Oracle University to be employable. “It’s a win-win situation for industry and the learner,” said Kim Palmer, managing director at On The Ball College.
“The MICT SETA uses these internship programmes to equitably distribute opportunities and bridge the skills gap of scarce and critical skills for all South Africans, particularly the youth. Exposing these students to workplace experience assists them to become employable,” says Jabu Sibeko, senior manager: learning programmes at MICT SETA.
CapaCiTi, the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative’s flagship programme for job readiness, skills development and placement, was responsible for upskilling the students on the critical business and professional skills needed to be effective and successful in the workplace. It also tapped into its extensive network of corporates in the Western Cape and facilitated the process of connecting the students to companies looking for interns and entry-level coders.
“Upskilling students on business and professional skills — including insight into corporate culture, customer service, communication skills, personal branding and ethics — makes their transition into the corporate world far smoother, and ensures they have a real impact on the business from day one,” said Alethea Hagemann, head of the CapaCiTi skills development programme at CiTi. “It’s inspiring to see the candidates, who were in grade 12 only a year ago, thriving in the corporate world as interns and forming a clearer picture of the next steps in their careers.”
“This business readiness training had a tremendous impact on me,” said Brown. “From time management, to how to behave in an office, to communication skills. Recently I gave a speech to more than 200 people. It is thanks to the CapaCiTi training that I was able to do this.”
The wins that come out of the school and post-matric Java programme are multiple: school leavers are assisted with an important first step in their careers immediately after matriculating, fast-tracking their progress and earning potential; Western Cape-based digital companies develop a pipeline of in-demand Java coding skills; and the increase in skilled coders helps build a vital knowledge economy in the Western Cape and beyond.
“Our reason for getting up in the morning is to grow our information economy and create jobs in the Western Cape. Working back from that purpose, we know we can’t do this alone and need to mobilise the entire ecosystem to move in the same direction,” says Ian Merrington, CiTi CEO. “This has been a perfect example of collaborating to solve a set of interlinked challenges in a way that sets us up for economic growth through nurturing our future innovators and makers.”
Meanwhile, for Brown, the most surprising thing about entering the workplace is how enjoyable it’s been. “It was so easy to fit into a software company,” he said. “I have such a passion for the work that it doesn’t really feel like work and every day is a happy day.”