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INTERVIEWS
By 6 July 2015 | Categories: interviews

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SAP's Skills for Africa initiative begun a little over two years ago, with the company aiming to train and educate young Africans with a specific focus on the ICT sector. To gain better insight into the initiative, as well as how successful it's been, we speak to Dr. Danie Smit, head of SAP Skills for Africa. 

TechSmart: Please explain your role within the SAP ecosystem, and provide a brief overview of the Skills for Africa initiative's key goals? 

Dr. Danie Smit: As the head of SAP Skills for Africa, I am responsible for creating and implementing a special initiative – SAP Skills for Africa (SFA) – to create 10 000 new skills for the SAP ecosystem across Africa. In partnership with governments, our customers and partners, we train young graduates with globally recognised SAP certifications. We are also able to kick-off lucrative careers by placing them in internship positions with our partners and customers. Through this intervention, we assist organisations across the continent to use innovative technology more effectively and ultimately make Africa run better.

TS: Sounds promising. The SAP Skills for Africa development program has been running for a little over two years now, what have been some of the key highlights in the past 24 months?

DS: The main highlight for me personally, was to see the ecstatic faces of 63 graduating young consultants in Kenya in December 2014, when they received their final certificates following the gruelling three month course. It was humbling to see the youth of Africa and how ready they are to start contributing to our future. 

We need to channel this energy to the right places through relevant skills development and job creation in order to drive prosperity for all. I am looking forward to be in Morocco for the graduation ceremony of the 40 SFA students that are completing their course in July.

TS: With a view to develop ICT-specific skills across the continent, what have been some challenges SAP has faced, and how were they overcome?

DS: All programs with an Africa wide footprint have their typical logistical challenges such as finding local partners in the different countries and managing a good quality project remotely. However, through dedicated and passionate team members and partners, we have managed to deliver high quality programs in Kenya and Morocco to date. We will continue to concentrate on training the skills that our partners require in order to ensure that we can provide each graduate with a job opportunity in the form of an internship at a high-quality company.

TS: Although the Skills for Africa has only been running a short time, what impact has it had so far in the workforce in the countries where pilot programs have been launched? 

DS: We have managed to place all 63 graduates from the 2014 cohort in internships in Kenya, some graduates even took up positions in other African countries such as Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. In Morocco, we have 40 graduates that will start their internships in the next month. 

Although these graduates are still relatively young in the SAP environment, many organisations are looking forward to their contribution in those respective organisations. More than 50 graduates from our first 2013 Kenya class have already contributed to the successes of many implementation projects at large customers.

TS: SAP has recently partnered with the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre and Simplon as part of an intensive training program for students, what was the motivation to join with those organisations?

DS: SAP has an existing successful partnership through our engagement with Simplon in France with similar programmes that target the youth from disadvantaged communities. In South Africa, SAP has been successfully partnering with the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre for several years on a multiplicity of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programmes. When we were assessing organisations for the inaugural Simplon programme in Africa, the track records of both organisations led us to the logical decision of a three-way partnership.

TS: After students have been through one of the Skills for Africa programs or initiatives, what kind of systems are in place to assist them afterwards?

DS: Even before a student starts on the SFA program, we secure an internship position for him/her with a respected company. Once he/she completes the three month training, SAP ensures that they commence their internship with their respective workplace provider companies. We keep in contact with these students through an Alumni program and will even assist by arranging for previous students to mentor new students. We have just introduced a formal mentorship initiative whereby SAP employees volunteer their time (1 hour per month for six months) to coach and mentor graduated SFA students.

TS: The Africa Code Week is happening soon, what role does it play within the Skills for Africa initiative? 

DS: The Africa Code Week (ACW) is well aligned with the Skills for Africa initiative. By promoting interest in computing at an early age, SAP is contributing to an important subject area that would ultimately lead to an increased interest in the ICT subject area across the continent. 

The ACW programme is targeted at multiple age categories (8-11, 12-17, 18-22 years) and focussed initially on 12 countries in Africa with a target of 20 000 youth. The programme is expected to ignite interest and skills development in coding and will be a multi-year programme. 

ACW is expected to be the incubator of next generation skills for technology on the African continent. To this end, participants will be exposed to the SAP brand as well as those of our key partners, and it is likely that beneficiaries of ACW will also have access to SAP skills development under the Skills for Africa programme in the short-to-medium term.

TS: With Skills for Africa only set to grow, what can we look forward to seeing from SAP in coming months/years?  

DS: We are currently recruiting for 60 students in South Africa. Training will start in September and we have already found internships for nearly 100% of these students. Look out for Skills for Africa programs in Zambia, Nigeria and Angola in 2016.

TS: Are there any success stories you'd like to mention, as a result of SAP's Skills for Africa initiative?

DS: This program has made a real difference in almost all of the participants’ personal lives and those of their immediate families. See the below video testimonies. 

Kenya Class of 2013:  

Kenya Class of 2014: View video here.

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