|© UNICEF South Africa/2006|
|Zoliswa, 16, learns about the world of high finance at Investec, one of the South African businesses participating in the Techno Girls Career Mentorship Programme.|
By Yvonne Duncan
PRETORIA, South Africa, 29 March 2006 – Zoliswa Yoyo is spending her school vacation at the office – and she couldn’t be happier about it. The 16-year-old student from Ndyebo Senior Secondary School is one of 35 girls gaining firsthand workplace experience courtesy of the Techno Girls Career Mentorship Programme.
A joint effort by the South African Government and UNICEF, the Techno Girls project was launched in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, last July to promote young women’s advancement in the fields of math, science and technology. Local businesses act as mentors for individual students, bringing them on board during their Easter and June school breaks for a behind-the-scenes look at what makes a company function.
Future career options
For many of these bright students, previous exposure to women in the working world has been limited to their own school teachers and the few women in their villages fortunate enough to have jobs. The Director of Special Programmes at the Eastern Cape Department of Education, Bukiwe Fanta, says it is critical for girls, particularly those from rural areas, to be exposed to career options in technical fields.
“Techno Girls helps by identifying talented girls from deep rural areas of the province and catapulting them into the world of real business for a unique learning experience,” explains Ms. Fanta.
As one of the Techno Girls participants, Zoliswa spent two days observing at Investec, an international financial firm. There she was immersed in many facets of the banking sector, including credit control, fund management and share trading.
The fast-paced office environment helped bring Zoliswa’s school lessons to life, allowing her to make a correlation between her current class work and future career options. The result of such an experience, say advocates of career mentorship, is heightened confidence and a springboard into the business world.
“Techno Girls has given me the most precious treasure,” says Zoliswa. “I am really grateful for the opportunity to explore a workplace in which I might make a career.”
Theory and practice
As UNICEF and its partners continue to encourage career mentorship at more South African businesses, the Techno Girls programme is poised to expand from Eastern Cape into Limpopo and other provinces.
So far, commitments have been secured from 18 Limpopo-based organisations. Mintek, a company specializing in mineral and metallurgical technologies, is also offering scholarships for 15 girls in the area. UNICEF expects the Techno Girls programme to grow significantly this year, with the number of participating students set to increase to around 300 per province.
“Girls need both the theory provided in school and the practical application of math, science and technology that only business can provide,” notes UNICEF South Africa Senior Programme Officer Julianna Lindsey. “Career mentorship is vital in providing a sense of what the professional world is like and the quality of work expected. It teaches girls more than any textbook could about careers.”
Kyria Abrahams contributed to this story from New York.