How to ensure your apprenticeship programme actually gives your apprentices the skills they need while keeping them motivated throughout? Give them a personal mentor. This is the firm belief of Vinny La Bella, MD of Gallium Professional Services – and a practice already firmly entrenched in the company’s unique response to the skills shortage in the IT sector.
As an EOH company, one of Gallium’s core focuses is its people: their personal and professional development. A primary reseller of HP software as well as a professional service provider, Gallium’s diverse spectrum of work and expertise provides the ideal learning environment for those wanting to develop their skills and get hands-on experience – especially as they will have a mentor by their side throughout the first six critical months.
La Bella explains that Gallium adopted this “mentorship” approach based on management’s own experiences of learning. “My best learning experiences were personal. I tried things, made mistakes and, most importantly, had someone I could ask who had the time to help, and who wanted to help. This was the experience we wanted to pass onto our apprentices.”
Gallium has partnered with Software Testing Solutions (STS), the only black-owned software quality assurance company in South Africa. STS is renowned for their excellent training programmes, including their Accelerated Skills Development (ASD) programme, which is being used in Gallium’s apprenticeship programme. This partnership has resulted in Gallium’s apprenticeship programme with a difference.
Candidates start their apprenticeship at a boot camp which lasts between five and ten days. “Here we equip them with the absolute basics of business: everything from business ethics and etiquette to corporate dress code.”
Apprentices then immediately start working on a live Gallium project at a client doing testing – another differentiating factor of the programme.
“It’s very important that someone going into this field is given a realistic experience of the industry and what the work is about. By getting apprentices to work on live projects with our clients they get a holistic view of what the work entails and very practical experience. In this environment they also learn about far more than just IT. They learn important life lessons about teamwork and accountability for example,” says La Bella.
Throughout the first six months of their apprenticeship candidates are shadowed by a mentor. They receive a progress report every week and are assessed every month throughout the programme ensuring that evaluation is ongoing, and that any problems or specific needs can be addressed timeously. La Bella explains that after the initial six months, apprentices start working as fully-fledged members of the team building their skills on site. Although they no longer have their own personal mentor, they still have access to one should they require it. Apprentices thus work their way up to becoming test analysts – and create a firm foundation on which to build their careers.
Gallium’s programme is demand driven, with the goal of retaining apprentices and eventually placing them at the company’s clients. The Accelerated Skills Development Programme (ASD) is outcomes based, ensuring that candidates learn both the practical and theoretical aspects they need to do the job. Upon completion, candidates receive SAQA accredited, SETA certification.
La Bella says that they are already seeing big things from the programme. “Our apprentices are proving invaluable in the teams. We’re learning with them and from them, ensuring that the programme just gets better and better.”
He adds that client response to the programme has also been overwhelming. “We currently have 23 apprentices learning on site at various customer adding to the programme by providing ideal learning opportunities. Because of the demand for skills, we’re looking to increase this number before the end of this year.”
Gallium’s response to the skills shortage and need for BEE development in the sector would thus appear to simply be to put its own skills, time and money where its mouth is.