Wits University and the University of Johannesburg have partnered with the Innovation Hub and business to launch the CoachLab@JCSE, a leadership development programme for the ICT sector.
The Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) together with The Innovation Hub (TIH) and industry sponsors, Microsoft and Barone, Budge and Dominick will launch the CoachLab@JCSE today.
The CoachLab, located on Wits University’s East Campus, is a nine-month post-graduate leadership development programme which aims to instil business principles and the value of innovative and entrepreneurial thinking amongst ICT post-graduate students.
The Innovation Hub developed and founded the CoachLab concept at their facility in Tshwane over eight years ago. The CoachLab at the JCSE is the second such facility and is the start of a countrywide roll out.
"One of the JCSE’s aims is to grow South Africa’s capacity to deliver world class software by building capacity and skills and educating experts to lead Africa’s software development sector," says Pro. Barry Dwolatzky, director of the JCSE.
"The CoachLab initiative helps us meet this goal by providing participating students with an opportunity to undertake post-graduate studies as well as project-based training, business development and soft skills training," he adds.
"The CoachLab helps universities retain post graduate students and promote skills depth in the country and fast-tracks the assimilation of graduates into the world of business through action- and project-based learning. The programme also identifies leadership potential, accelerates leadership development and creates an awareness of the value of innovative thought to create competitive advantage."
Patricia Dlamini, from Entrepreneurship & Leadership Development at The Innovation Hub, emphasises that the CoachLab curriculum is customised to meet the needs of the individual students.
"Students receive coaching from an industrial psychologist, who assists them in balancing the pressures of academic and CoachLab demands while providing the tools they need to perform within a leadership role" she says.
The programme also provides students with soft skills including report-writing, conflict resolution, decision making and how to develop a presentation.
Carl Marnewick, head of the Department of Business IT at the University of Johannesburg, notes that there is a big divide between information technology (IT) and business, which uses IT as an enabling tool.
"The curriculum gives the students a fair understanding of the business implications of IT investments and the value IT brings to business. They learn to appreciate that IT does not operate in isolation of the business," he says.
The CoachLab curriculum also bridges the gap between academia and the world of work by giving the students the skills they need to cope in a work environment.
"In South Africa today, students who study technology enter the workplace too soon after their basic degree. We have a dire need for higher skilled workers and are struggling to get technology students to PhD level," says David Ives, the head of Microsoft South Africa’s developer and platform group.
The reasons are twofold. Firstly, industry has overtaken academia in the world of technology in terms of knowledge and innovation because of the rapid rate of change of new technology entering the market on a near-daily basis. Secondly, access to technology has made basic skills obsolete in these study fields and today students are required to innovate on existing technologies.
"The relationship between technology, academia and the corporate world needs to evolve – we would like to see more science and technology PhDs sponsored by corporates. This would develop the culture of innovation in this country still further," says Ives.
"South Africa needs a lot of whiz-kids. We need to enhance the intellectual capital of our young people so that they can rise above other achievers to become leaders," agrees Marnewick.
"If the graduates become leaders, eventually they will also create opportunities for more people. Maybe they will or will not start their own businesses, but they will impact on the businesses in which they work and foster the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovative thinking. There will better service delivery wherever these young people end up working," he says.
Marnewick and Ives note that programmes like CoachLab will encourage students to study further, rather than taking up jobs at the first possible opportunity.