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Barclays Digital Academy up-skills Africa’s young talent

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Barclays Digital Academy up-skills Africa's young talent.
Barclays Digital Academy up-skills Africa’s young talent.

Barclays and the Digital Academy, an initiative that aims to equip young students with software development skills showcased the Barclays Digital Academy’s eighth intake of students on Wednesday, 29 November 2017. The collaboration between Barclays and the Digital Academy was launched in 2015 in a bid to turn raw software development talent into market-ready skills.

Each year, the Barclays Digital Academy hosts three intakes where they train 30 students for a period of four months. The initiative recruits young people who have web and software development skills and supports them in achieving their goal of solving challenges by building commercially-viable products for the African market.

The Digital Academy, Managing Director, Gary Bannatyne said, “Coding is something that you don’t have to go to an institution to learn, so the Digital Academy offers a work simulated environment. We are like the last mile of taking the students skills from having no relevance in the corporate space to making them relevant. It is very important for the African youth because this is the fastest moving industry and it is something that the students can relate to. All you need is connectivity, machine and access to content and you can learn.”

Gary says candidates go through a rigorous screening process and the Academy appoints individuals with “raw talent” who are passionate about digital and software development. He said, “There are a lot of people trying to get to our programme, it’s mostly word-of-mouth but we also try to get through to a lot of tertiary institutions. When an individual applies to the programme, there is a screening process. We see if the candidate has any sort of digital experience, they can be raw, but they have to have some sort of digital exposure. We take individuals who have a qualification or are self-taught and we up-skill them. We also try not to select people who have been in the market, we try and appeal to the mass market by appointing unemployed youth. We interview about 250 people every four months and we only select 30 every four months.”

The Digital Academy offers practical hands-on experience and has trained 263 people since it was launched. The internship initiative aims to meet the needs of the Academy’s collaborators as well as that of the broader African digital economy. The Academy is looking to offer paid-for programmes.

“We don’t think that some of the digital or technology courses at higher education institutes are appropriate, we don’t compete with them but we believe that doing practical is king. Theoretical work with young talent is not as important. We want young guys to learn by doing and not learn by learning. The Digital Academy paid-for model is an idea we’ve had to try appeal to a market that is looking for a course they are willing to pay for. We want to appeal to a wider audience and potentially expand our presence,” said Gary.

Speaking about expanding the initiative into the rest of the country and continent, Gary said, “We have had opportunities to go to Cape Town, opportunities with some brands to go to Durban, we would appreciate the expansion but it is a long and drawn out process. It would also take working with the corporates to try and try to align our vision. We are also interested in expanding into the rest of Africa. We got some interest from corporates in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique.

Gary says most companies in Africa realise that digital and technology resources are a huge demand and they realise that importing them from other countries or sending requirements overseas is not the answer to solving some of our local challenges.

Barclays Africa has, and continue to upskill talented youth who have the potential but not the means to build a career in technology through Digital Academy initiative. The company has since trained 241 candidates through the Academy, of which 124 have been placed in internships with 66 of them employed on a permanent basis and 32 on fixed-term contracts.

Lee-Anne Wyman, head of Young Talent, Barclays Africa Group Technology division said, “Permanent placement works in terms of the intern’s overall performance during their work-based experience component.”

“The initial selection process is conducted mainly by the Digital Academy from a technical skills perspective, Barclays then engages closely with the interns during the internship process at the Academy then from there Barclays is able to identify top performance based on their culture fit as well as their technical skill. There are various assessments that are conducted at Digital Academy throughout the internship process to identify top talent. Towards the end of the four months at the Academy, Barclays comes in and sets up interviews to take place at ABSA. We constantly are looking for new talent,” said Lee-Anne.

“With this programme we are able to make a difference in the lives of our youth, we are able to upskill our youth and address unemployment within South Africa,” added Lee-Anne.

“At first, it was a bit overwhelming, having just graduated from school. It was exciting but at the same time, it was a bit of a shock. The staff at the Academy was so welcoming. We would sometimes spend the night at work but it never felt like we were at work,” said Lebohang, an Alumni of the Barclays Digital Academy.

Mark Godfrey Tau, an Alumni of the Academy said, “it was awesome being here and the transition from being a student to joining the job market was something that new and challenging for me. Although we were at work, it never really felt like work. We got a lot of support and training from the Academy, we are given room to make mistakes. We were taught to work hard and become innovative.”

“Our graduates are the future of the country and by investing in them, we are actually investing in the country. Barclays is passionate about upskilling the youth and we place great focus on making the programme sustainable and making sure we set our young talent for success, in the long run,” said Lee-Ann.

Students who want to become part of the initiative can go on to the academy’s website and apply.

By Fundisiwe Maseko
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