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Tech students face uncertain future despite being promised ‘heaven and earth’

2019-03-28 02:00

Thobela Juma’s* hopes of getting an IT internship or job hang in the balance.

Juma lives in Khayelitsha, Western Cape, and may be among more than 200 youths facing a similar fate in Gauteng, the Western and Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal.

They all enrolled for IT-related programmes with Cape Town-based nonprofit organisation (NPO) CapaCiTi Tech Career Accelerator.

Last year, CapaCiTi won a multimillion-rand contract from government as part of its digital job creation strategy.

Juma (23) also fears that he will be unable to repay the R30 000 loan he received from the NPO.

The money facilitated his IT-related training through a learnership programme, which Juma enrolled in in September last year.

The duration of the course was nine months – three months for the learnership and six months for an internship.

When he signed on the dotted line in September, Juma said, CapaCiTi promised to find an internship and a job for him once he completed the learnership.

But he has been sitting at home for a month now because he has not been placed anywhere.

Juma resigned from his previous job, hoping that by enrolling with CapaCiTi to pursue a career in digital technology, he would do the relevant work required for the fourth industrial revolution.

“At home, they thought I would be working right now. The hope I had when I signed that contract is beyond measure. But now, I am no longer sure about this whole thing,” said Juma.

“What frustrates me is that the NPO told me I owe it the R30 000 that it paid for my learnership, and that I will be blacklisted if I don’t pay it, even if I don’t have a job.

“What’s worse, I was pressured to sign the contract on the same day without properly reading it. They promised us heaven and earth.”

But CapaCiTi spokesperson Marietjie Engelbrecht said there was no guarantee that students would be placed into internships.

However, she added, the NPO worked hard to facilitate internships with a number of reputable organisations.

She said CapaCiTi had won a contract with the National Treasury Jobs Fund in the project category titled Catalysing and Stimulating Tech Job Creation, in 2018.

The contract, she said, was valued at R75 million over a period of three years.

Engelbrecht said they were required to train 2 410 students in tech skills.

“This initiative specifically targets unemployed, historically disadvantaged women and youth at different levels of the educational value chain, from postmatric to graduate level.

“The focus of the project will be on rapidly training and transitioning unemployed youth into responsible positions in the ICT industry and in digital jobs. Historically, the demographics of trainees are 97% black youth and 40% women,” she said.

During the 12 quarters of the project, Engelbrecht said, CapaCiTi was required to complete the following tasks: train 2 410 beneficiaries; have 1 881 beneficiaries complete time-bound internships; have 1 019 beneficiaries placed in permanent, full-time jobs; and have 54 beneficiaries placed in new, short-term, full-time jobs.

So far, she said, 40.5% of students had been successfully placed in internships.

Engelbrecht said the NPO was implementing the pay-it-forward loan model to ensure that the programme was sustainable.

Students are offered a monthly cash allowance for the duration of their course and CapaCiTi also pays training providers for course fees.

City Press has learnt that concerned students drafted a petition in January which was later withdrawn, as the students feared victimisation.

In the petition, they expressed concern over challenges with internship and job placements. Some also complained that their exams were delayed.

City Press has also seen an email, dated in January, from a CapaCiTi official thanking students for their patience.

The official said the NPO had large commitments from corporates and businesses to support CapaCiTi students in offering internships in 2018.

“Due to a depressed economy, many of these businesses are no longer able to hold these commitments, which is why we find ourselves in a situation where sourcing suitable internship opportunities for you has been difficult,” the official said.

Engelbrecht said loan repayments were made at an affordable rate, based on the salary level earned by a graduate.

“If a graduate does not receive an internship within six months and does not thereafter become permanently employed, we consider writing off any repayment obligation in relation to both the cash allowances and the training costs that were paid by CapaCiTi,” she said.

She added that CapaCiTi recognises that it is not always ideal to explain the content of legal contracts to students on the same day that they sign them, and will commit to offering students a second, separate signing session if that is their choice.

“However, we are also aware that some students do not have the available funds to travel to multiple briefs and contracting sessions. So, we will continue to offer the opportunity for them to sign contracts immediately after the contracting session as well.”

Lerato Seko, the fund’s spokesperson, confirmed the existence of the contract and said the fund was aware of the allegations made against CapaCiTi.

“The fund is mindful of the fact that this project has some key dependencies in that, although it facilitates internships – and, subsequently, permanent employment – these are based on the satisfaction of host companies with the performance of the graduates,” Seko added.

*Not his real name


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November 10 2019