Learnership on ‘steroids’: SA IT firm seeks driving human acceleration 2.0

JOHANNESBURG — Skills development is a hot issue in South Africa. Former President Jacob Zuma‘s decision to switch on free tertiary education for poorer households also sparked debate back in December. But while learning institutions have a role to play in upskilling our youth, it’s also the responsibility of corporates. In this interview, Daniel Avinir, the Co-Founder and Technical Director of SA IT business Solid Systems, speaks about a very interesting programme that accelerates skills development within the workplace. – Gareth van Zyl

Hi, my name is Daniel Avinir. I’m the Co-Founder and Technical Director of Solid Systems.

Daniel, thank you very much for taking the time to chat to us today. As you said, you’re part of a company called Solid Systems. Can you tell us what it does exactly?

Solid Systems is a technology service provider based out of Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa. We provide technology services that enable businesses to perform at their best. We do that by delivering leading technology solutions. However, what is different, is that we do it in the most human way possible.

Talking about the most human way possible, you run something called the ‘Human Acceleration Programme’. Can you tell us what that involves exactly?

Absolutely, our Human Acceleration Programme is a bit like a learnership or an internship, but on steroids. The problem that we’ve found over the last 15 years is that there’s a gap between the skills that are taught at our technical institutions, our IT training centres and the actual skills that are required to do the work for corporate South Africa. Therefore, we find that when we hire people, they’re not really equipped to hit the ground running and it takes between six months and two years to really get them to a stage where they become a valued employee at Solid Systems.

Daniel Avinir, Co-Founder and Technical Director of Solid Systems.

So, the Human Acceleration Programme is designed to do just that; it’s designed to accelerate that process and to bridge the gap between what they learn at the technikons and what we really need. It’s not only technical, it’s also about how to be a real human or we call it a “Solid” human that’s managing expectations and dealing with clients in a very difficult place. I’m sure you know that technology is a difficult thing to get right and people don’t always understand it, so really creating a solid human that can manage the expectations, projects and IT goals of businesses in South Africa and abroad.

Talking about the ‘solid human’ aspect, it sounds as if many graduates that are coming out of the system perhaps lack in both hard skills and soft skills?

I think what’s important to mention is the education system in South Africa and in the world [is falling short]. We’re living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What does that mean and how are we teaching the people of today to work in this world? And so, the content is irrelevant, the content that they’re teaching both at universities and at these technikons is not really what is being used in the workplace. A very basic example is the A+ or N+ course. These are antiquated technical courses that usually are the first step into the IT industry, and these are not really what is necessary. Now people need to know about machine learning and cloud computing and technologies that simply have not been taught and are not taught in the correct way at technikon.

Do you think then that corporates, such as yourselves, must help close that gap or do our learning institutions also have a role to play?

If you try to hire a Generation Z employee or even a millennial, the way that they learn, the way that they want to learn, the way that they take in information is very different to how you and I were brought up and taught in school. So, we believe in a programme that is peer-to-peer based, that you learn at your own pace with your colleagues, that you’re given the right tools and you’re given the right structure to learn and develop as quickly as you can based on your passion, your drive and how quickly you would like to accelerate yourself.

So, who is responsible for that programme? Everyone is responsible for that programme — corporate South Africa and the IT training colleges. But I think what we’re going to see is the old school way of doing things is going to fall behind and the institutions that are going to succeed are companies such as Solid Systems with the Human Acceleration Programme or what we think Code is doing in the development space, it’s just a new age way of educating people.

Earlier, you spoke about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and you touched on things like machine learning. It’s become a big topic in the business world. I think for several years now, at the World Economic Forum as an example, it’s been spoken about a lot. Do you think that companies and South Africans get this thing called the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

I think we’re living in it right now and we don’t notice it. The way that we interact with Facebook, with Siri, we have Alexa in our homes, and even the way that our email systems are connected to our document systems. That’s all part of different parts of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which might not be seen to the eye, but they’re happening in the background. Everything from the latest apps to Facebook or any other technology, are all using these tools in the background to deliver these services to the clients. So, I think it’s all happening behind the scenes and we don’t need to be aware that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is there; it’s just happening.

Fourth Industrial Revolution

Just to get back to the Human Acceleration Programme: you’ve also empowered people from township areas. Can you tell us more?

Over the last 15 years, what we’ve found is that when you give the right person the opportunity to succeed, they will succeed. And what we’ve seen time and time again is that we’ve changed their lives and they’ve changed ours. They’ve changed the business that we run.

The problem is that these opportunities and access to these opportunities are very difficult to come across if you live in a township. You don’t have unlimited access to internet or you might not even have any network to work on. What we’re doing is that we’re focusing on people that don’t have these opportunities readily available. These are people who are struggling to find even an internship. We’re giving opportunities to those people because what we’ve seen when we do that is that they surprise us — they surprise themselves and essentially they change their own world.

In terms of numbers, are you able to give us an idea of how many people have gone through this programme that you run?

The programme is actually fairly new. We’ve seen many people go through the programme over the years with us, but not in the way that we’re running it this year. This year we are running it as a separate programme to the business and it is our first programme we’re starting, kicking off on the 3rd of April 2018. So it’s almost like a Human Acceleration Programme 2.0.

What prompted the decision to run it separately from your business? Does that then become a bigger programme?

It becomes a bigger programme. What we’ve found is we bring in internships on these (I hate to use the word ‘internship’ because it’s not that, it’s very different. It’s internship on steroids) and when we bring in one learner or one applicant here and there, we don’t focus and give them the mentoring, leadership and the tools that they actually need to succeed. And so, it’s done very ad hoc and the programme has developed into its own animal where we’re dedicating specific resources to it.

Can other corporate organisations get involved and lend a hand as well?

It’s an interesting question because skills development is a hot topic in South Africa and the amount of emails and communication I get from either labour brokers or labour skills development businesses that are trying to place learners in our environment, there’s plenty of that going around. But these are the same training institutions that are teaching the old school content, that are not actually dealing with the needs of our businesses and other business in South Africa today. I think we’re trying to do something different. We’re looking to, as we say, accelerate a human’s development so that they become more useful in the workplace and they can have the ability to impact both the business and their own lives. At this point in time, we have our hands full, we’re working on something very exciting, but I’m sure in their future there’ll be some opportunities.

What is the plan moving forward with the programme? Where do you see in three to five years’ time?

My co-founder Michael and I have a passion for people and technology. Our passion for people is to enable them to perform at their best and our passion for technology is to drive that technology within our customers’ businesses. We believe and we see the rapid change in technology, specifically around the Microsoft Office 365 stack and how it’s impacting the world massively in the way that businesses operate and in the way that they sell and deliver their products and the way that they work and allow their employees to work. Therefore, our goal is to create a sustainable funnel of Microsoft certified professionals from the programme that will go into the world and buy the Microsoft 365 agenda.

Daniel, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today. Thank you very much for taking the time to tell us about what you’re doing.

Thank you very much, Gareth, have a great day.

Great, thank you very much.

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