4 November 2009 Labour market head start for school kids A new scheme being implemented by ORT South Africa is giving teenagers the chance to acquire practical work skills in tandem with their schoolwork. A group of excited Grade 10 students in Alexandra look forward to learning with ORT. The Geared for Life programme has already attracted 200 senior students at 10 high schools five in the Alexandra township and five Jewish day schools in nearby Johannesburg and this number is expected to double next year. The free, extra-curricular courses spread the one-year, nationally recognised NQF diploma courses in marketing (which is also recognised in the European Union), project management, paralegal practice and beauty-nail technology, over three years. It is hoped to add more courses in the future. This allows the kids to gain useful workplace skills in the familiar, supportive environment of their own school and to integrate school activities into their courses, said Tracy Mayhew, Head of Skills Development, at ORT South Africa. Teenagers doing paralegal practice, for example, can use their schools debating society infrastructure to simulate court proceedings overseen by retired judges who are volunteering their time as well as undertake job placements at SETA companies. And marketing students can use their involvement in the school magazine as part of their course. They wont lose a years worth of evenings through having to attend night school and they wont have to pay the 27,000 rand ($3,500) that the course would cost them, ORT South Africas Marketing and Communications Director, Carol Rod, said. The no-fee bonus is thanks to the support of the Services Sector Education and Training Authority (Services SETA), which uses taxation on companies in service industries to raise the skills level of their workers. Next year, please God, my son will be doing it its a no brainer, Ms Rod said. This is a perfect opportunity for kids to add something valuable to their CV, gain real work experience not just job shadowing and develop relationships which could help them find work later on. The schools have absolutely embraced it; theyve said it is an unbelievable opportunity for the learners. And the businesses stand to benefit by helping to create a cadre of young people who are capable of finding their way around an office at a time when surveys of the 185,000 businesses which are members of the Services SETA show that even graduates are often seen as ill-equipped to enter the working world. Ivor Blumenthal, the Chief Executive of the Services SETA, is seen as the driving force behind the programmes development. At the launch in Johannesburg, Mr Blumenthal told the first group of learners: You are embarking on an adult education programme. The course you will be doing will consist of only 30 per cent classroom learning and 70 per cent practical experience. The practical work will be gathered into a portfolio of evidence that, together with the accredited qualification which you will receive at the end of the process, will give you a head start in the search for employment when you leave school. ORT South Africa is supplying the trainers and is managing the programme. And ORT SAs long standing involvement in enhancing education and training resources in the townships has given Services SETA the way in to the black communities it was seeking. Services SETA had already launched a similar programme in Muslim and other schools, said Ms Rod. ORTs experience and contacts in the townships gave it a launch pad into those communities as well as the Jewish schools. Next year we plan to extend the programme to other townships, including Soweto.