There’s a skills shortage in South Africa. A simple scan of the headlines reveals that the country is short on technical skills that play an important role in many key industries. The Career Junction Employment Insight Report for 2022 found that the most severe skill shortages are evident in the Finance and IT sectors, while business management and engineering skills are also in short supply. The report suggests that training facilities and tertiary institutions should align to industry needs in terms of skills and qualifications. This also highlights the need for organisations within industries to play a part in developing the skills needed in their sectors.
The manufacturing sector needs skills
The manufacturing sector is an important part of South Africa’s economy, contributing to the national GDP and formal sector employment, and playing a crucial role in supplying goods and materials for export markets. However, as an ageing workforce nears or enters retirement, skilled workers’ valuable legacy knowledge is leaving the industry without knowledge transfer having taken place. Compounding this issue, manufacturers are reporting a skills mismatch between the classroom learning of recent graduates and the requirements of workplace-ready employees. This is causing strain within an industry that is crucial to the South African economy.
Manufacturers have identified that even with tertiary education completed, many new graduates lack foundational workplace readiness skills. However, graduates who have completed an internship programme are far more likely to find permanent employment because of their valuable exposure to the real-world work environment.
“As a company that supports the manufacturing industry, we believe that we have a responsibility to develop the skills needed in this critical industry to help the ongoing digitalization of the manufacturing industry in Africa,” says Mark Wilson, CEO of SYSPRO EMEA & APAC. “With this challenge in mind, it made sense for us to launch an internship programme that not only introduces vital skills into the manufacturing sector, but that also addresses the skills mismatch between employers and new graduates,” he explains.
Internships provide vital workplace skills
By aligning the needs of employers with those of recent graduates looking to enter the manufacturing industry, SYSPRO took meaningful steps to grow the expertise within the industry by introducing an internship programme. The programme started in 2016, and has grown steadily each year since, with SYSPRO interns being snapped up by SYSPRO partners and customers at the end of their nine-month programme.
“What we found is that it’s not only technical skills that are needed. Developing workplace-relevant soft skills such as problem solving, networking, leadership and presentation skills have really benefitted the talented young people in our internship programme. Being able to communicate effectively in the workplace, ask the right questions and listen actively is a crucial factor in helping these young graduates become an asset to the organisation they are placed in,” says Marius Wessels, Manager: Professional Services for SYSPRO Africa, who is closely involved with the programme.
Initially, the programme focused on classroom learning with a small exposure to on-site involvement through job shadowing. However, the SYSPRO team recognised that to produce workplace-ready potential employees, there needed to be more on-site involvement. Now, the programme offers five months of intensive classroom training covering not only technical and product skills, but also vital soft skills. SYSPRO interns then spend two months within the SYSPRO ecosystem, doing job shadowing across several corporate divisions before they are placed for on-site experience within the company’s partner and customer ecosystem.
Ishmael Mbanjwa was one of the first interns in the programme when it started. For him, it was an experience that set him up for future success in the industry. “We were a small group of five people, and it was an incredible opportunity to learn from each other and from the experts who taught us and encouraged us to ask questions and understand the product,” he says. He worked in SYSPRO for three years after completing the internship programme, before joining a SYSPRO customer.
Ntongase Mathabela, a Product Marketing Specialist at SYSPRO, got her start in the company through the Internship Programme. “It was a great stepping stone into my career, because we learned so much – professionalism, presentation skills, and building confidence as a young professional. They don’t teach you that at university. All of those foundational skills helped prepare us for our jobs,” she comments. “Now, as a product marketing specialist, I use those presentation skills every week!”
For Motshedisi Ntwe, a solutions consultant at SYSPRO, the internship provided an invaluable bridge between the theoretical ‘book learning’ of her studies and the implementation of that knowledge in a business setting. Motshedisi studied management accounting before she was accepted for the internship programme, and found that the internship experience opened up a lot of opportunities. “I would definitely recommend it,” she comments.
Each intake of interns is a group with diverse educational and personal backgrounds, but they work as a team during their internship. “There were 12 of us on the course, and we learned so many different skills. We were competitive, but also very collaborative. We still talk to each other today,” says Ntwe.
“What I learned during the internship has allowed me to flourish in my career. The internship was a great opportunity to learn from others. Because of the grounding I received through the programme, I understand SYSPRO inside and out. Now I am a senior consultant helping others understand the system,” says Mbanjwa.
Demand for workplace-ready graduates is high
“The response to the programme has been phenomenal,” says Wessels. “In 2016 when we initiated the programme, we had a group of five. In 2021, we received 4,500 applications from talented young graduates and in 2023, we have a group of 20 graduates completing our programme. In seven years, we have produced more than 100 interns, and 60% are still placed and working within the industry, with nearly all working at SYSPRO, or with SYSPRO partners and customers,” he adds.
“As an industry leader, we had a responsibility to not only build skills within our own network, but to ensure that skilled employees are placed throughout the industry. It’s a testament to the success of this programme that although we increase the number of interns each year, we cannot keep up with the demand from our partners and customers for intern placements,” says Wilson.