Making a difference

Originally posted on Truck & Bus

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The sentiment has been brought to vivid life by the learnership campaign run by Vix Technology South Africa last year, which has seismically altered the outlook for the programme’s 15 graduates and provided new impetus to the company.It may be an unlikely source of inspiration, but an 1899 essay is the touchstone for Vix SA’s ‘Class of 2017’ graduates. The thrust of ‘A message to Garcia’ – a widely distributed essay written over a century ago – is the value of initiative, conscientiousness and tenacity. It’s a message that the Vix graduates have taken on board. 

Vix South Africa’s debut learnership programme – run through the Media, Information and Communication Technology Sector Education and Training Authority – saw 15 learners complete a theory syllabus, complemented by workshop-based practical training and on-site experience at customer depots. As well as attaining N3 certification, learners gained useful practical experience and invaluable insight into how a corporate operates, says Vix SA CEO Tjaart Kruger. Vix SA has subsequently employed eight of the graduates. 

Participants were unanimous in their gratitude for the course – both for the opportunity to participate, as well as for the doors that training has opened – but Vix has benefited too, with graduates slotting in as fully-fledged members of the Vix workforce. Buy-in from management and the workforce has enabled Vix to mould learners into the organisation and the industry, says COO Eben Martincich, describing as ‘manna’ the opportunity to hire the brightest and best.

Vix SA Class of 2017:

Vhahangwele Sigari (25)

From: Alexandra, Johannesburg

Background: Grade 12; N1 – N5 Certificate in Electrical Engineering

Interests: Reading books; playing soccer

Simphiwe Masuluke (21)

From: Soweto

Background: Grade 12

Interests: “Achieving my goals”

Simphiwe received a commendation from Paul Mainganye, Director: Subsidy and Funding, at the Limpopo Department of Transport for prompt and efficient service in preparing and delivering a report that was requested. Simphiwe received the first ‘Creating a better customer journey’ award, recognising customer service excellence. The award was created to recognise and honour Vix SA employees who make a difference in customers’ lives by being pro-active, professional and going the extra mile. 

Lebogang Mangena (30)

From: Soweto

Background: Grade 12

Interests: Soccer

Tshiamo Mabula (29)

From: Palmridge, Johannesburg

Background: Grade 12

Interests: Acting (with newsreading and voiceover auditions under his belt, Tshiamo aspires to a role in ‘Generations’)

Motlalepule (Susan) Mohloki (26)

From: Orange Farm, Johannesburg

Background: Grade 12 (had embarked on tertiary studies in IT and subsequently in agriculture, opting for the Vix SA learnership instead)

Interests: Reading

Sharon Molope (26)

From: Soshanguve, Pretoria

Background: Grade 12

Interests: Singing

Kopano Mabula (25)

From: Palmridge, Johannesburg

Background: Grade 12; N5 Certificate in Electrical Engineering

Interests: Singing

Boitumelo Makaleng (24) and Bongani Sithole (22) were unavailable for the interview as they were on site at client premises. Boitumelo has Grade 12 and an N6 Certificate in Mechanical Engineering; Bongani has Grade 12 – both are interested in playing soccer.

What did you do before the course? What are you doing now?

Vhahangwele: I was busy with electrical engineering and obtained my N1 to N5. I’m an assistant technician, responsible for repairs, production and installation in buses. 

Simphiwe: I had just matriculated and was not doing anything. I had applied to study and was waiting to enroll the following year. I’m a data analyst. 

Lebogang: I was working as a petrol attendant, now I’m the storeman.

Tshiamo: I had worked at Glocell and was retrenched after four months because of restructuring, so I was doing short term contract work and ‘side hustles’. I’m involved in projects and building data sets for clients. [Tshiamo is a fully-fledged member of a project team tasked with taking route surveys and building topology, with optimised routes a crucial element for any successful bus operator.]

Susan: I was studying agriculture and environmental sciences at Unisa. I had studied for two years, but along the way realised that it was not a career for me. This opportunity came at the right time – I decided to do something enjoyable instead of something I didn’t even like. Now I’m an assistant technician. I’m also in admin. I fix modules. I do quality checks on machines. [Susan regularly outpaces workshop stalwarts’ output and consistently outperforms the time standards in place for workshop staff for specific tasks – output has never been so high, says Martincich. “There’s a lot less talking and a lot more doing,” he says, highlighting Susan’s 110 to 120% output volumes. Susan says, “I get here at 6.30 or 7 and leave between 5 and 5.30. You can’t keep clients waiting, so you need to be on top of your game always. If you promise something, you need to deliver.”]

Sharon: I was working at Goldrush as a betting clerk and had a side job doing stock taking. Now I’m a data analyst and work on reports.

Kopano: I was doing electrical engineering, N5. I’m involved in quality assurance and assisting in admin. [Previously machines that had been repaired were checked by another technician; now formalised quality procedures and checks are in place.]

How did you find out about the course and why did you apply?

Vhahangwele: Someone from Vix told me about the course and I submitted my CV. I was very happy to get the opportunity because I’m dealing with electronics, which relates to what I was doing. 

Simphiwe: A lady who works at Vix as a housekeeper told me about it; we go to the same church. 

Lebogang: A family friend told me about the Vix learnerships. I applied because I’d wanted to learn about electronics. I had travelled on a Rea Vaya bus and wondered about the ticketing machines I’d seen – what they do and who had created them.

Tshiamo: I’m a member of a Whatsapp group for people who are not working, to find jobs and learnerships. I applied because it was something completely different. It was a market I’d never been exposed to, so it was a good opportunity to start something new and start afresh.

Susan: My grandmother has retired, but worked here as a housekeeper for a very long time – her daughter-in-law works here now. My grandmother suggested that I try.

Sharon: I heard about the course via a family friend working at SETA: she gave me the e-mail address and fortunately I was called for the interview.

Kopano: On social media: Tshiamo sent it to me. [Kopano and Tshiamo are siblings.] I thought it was another scam: I didn’t know what Vix was, I didn’t know where Bryanston was! But I went on the internet to check it out.

What’s the most useful thing you’ve learned?

Vhahangwele: I know the difference between a work environment and a family environment, and what’s expected of you when you’re at work. For example, in terms of time management: at work you must be on time and you must leave on time. At work, with everything you do, you must measure your time. You must plan what you’re going to do for a day and how long you’re going to take.

Simphiwe: I became computer literate, with Excel and Word. I had done a bit at home – self-taught – but I wasn’t really interested. There was no internet connection, so I’d just play games.

Lebogang: What I’ve learned about is the TP5800 ticketing machine. I know how to fix it, I know how to solve problems. Vix has given us many opportunities. [Learners were all rotated through various divisions of the business – as well as to customer sites – providing exposure to different tasks and fields.]

Tshiamo: Strategy. Strategising is important. Nobody plans to fail: you plan to succeed. But unforeseen circumstances can occur and that may require you to drift from the path and take a different route to get the result. You need a clear strategy to minimise the damage that may be caused by these unforeseen circumstances. Learning how to work around things to achieve goals despite challenges was very important. If you encounter an obstacle, you keep going: you need to think not even outside the box – the box is too small! You need to think outside the room, outside of your comfort zone. 

Susan: Communication is very important. When you talk to somebody, you get to know where you stand and what is expected of you – instead of assuming wrong things and not doing what is expected of you. It’s very important that you have good relationships and good communication with your boss and colleagues. It’s also important to be happy in what you’re doing. I had started studying IT and agriculture, but I knew that this was not what I wanted to wake up to do every morning for the rest of my life. If you’re not happy, you’re not going to be at  your best. 

Sharon: Being diverse. We were given an opportunity to work in different fields. I was fortunate to work on site, I learned to install equipment on buses, I learned how to fix the machines and to maintain the machines on site. If a machine has an error and the bus driver has to go to work, you need to fix the machine. I’ve also learned to analyse reports, to help clients. I’ve learned the value of customers. It’s very important that customers are happy, that you deliver on promises you make. 

Kopano: Problem solving, time management and planning.

What was the most challenging or difficult part of the training?

Vhahangwele: Sometimes it was hard for permanent staff to share information with us. As the course went on, this was less of a problem and now everything is fine. 

Simphiwe: The practical part was challenging: going into the workshop, dealing with tools, lifting machines. I always thought it was a man’s job, but when I got there, I had to put on an overall and get on with it. It was challenging, but not difficult. 

Lebogang: When they give you a board and say you must solve the problem, when there’s a problem with the components. That could be tricky and was a bit challenging. 

Tshiamo: It was quite demanding. I went to the workshop and spent a couple of months with Vix, but then I was quickly put into projects. It was a bit difficult to adjust, to get the hang of everything, to understand processes and why things are done in specific ways.

Susan: It was challenging when I got to the workshop. It’s a male-dominated environment. I’m really small, so there was some doubt about what I could do. There was pressure to prove myself, that as a woman I am more than capable of doing what male colleagues are doing. Another challenge was the volume of information you had to take on daily, because you’re not doing one thing at a time – everybody is giving you tasks and you need to give good feedback. This was even more challenging because it was an unfamiliar environment. 

Sharon: I was in the first group to be sent on site – and depots are very big. You’d walk from one end to the other to find the buses, in sun or in rain. That was quite challenging. I went to North West Start’s four depots. 

Kopano: Getting to a workshop and finding technicians working and saying that they don’t have time for women. Sometimes they would help, sometimes they’d let you figure it out for yourself.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of the course?

Vhahangwele: The experience I have now. I really enjoyed the course and feel very good about it: I have one year of experience and am still with the company. I’ve been given the opportunity to prove myself. 

Simphiwe: The theory part.

Lebogang: Going on site [to Metrobus in Milpark]. I enjoyed studying and fixing machines in the field. 

Tshiamo: The whole project – from its start to how it ended – was exciting and life-changing. I had challenges throughout the year, but was able to learn. I realised that I was stronger than I thought I was and could do more. 

Susan: The exposure we got to a lot of different things. You get to see that it’s not just about buses and machines, but also the operation behind that, the technology behind it, the part you have to play as a team member. You get involved – you have something to do and say. That’s very enjoyable, in contrast to just listening to somebody and having no input or role to play. Even though we were students, we were fully involved. You’re given the opportunity, then it’s up to you what you do with it. 

Sharon: The knowledge that we gained and the opportunity. Vix didn’t limit us from the knowledge: they gave us the materials, they gave us everything we needed. It was up to us to be determined to make the most of the opportunity, to observe everything. 

Kopano: Gaining information. I never knew about this field before.

What’s the best piece of advice you received during training?

Vhahangwele: You have to work hard to achieve. You have to be patient too, in order to achieve. 

Simphiwe: In a meeting one day, Eben told us that we need to focus on learning to learn. That became my daily inspiration – learning something before I go home every day. I still do that.

Lebogang: Always work hard. 

Tshiamo: We were busy one day and we were tired. I was saying how easy it is to give up when you’re feeling fatigued. My colleague said to me, “I’d rather be tired than be broke.” That was a wake-up call. I don’t want to be broke; I’d rather sweat. There’s also another level of being broke – not just the financial part, but being ‘knowledge broke’. You could be lucky with Lotto, but you can’t just be lucky and absorb the knowledge all in one go.

Susan: Eben has been one those people who made us think about why we are here. He said that you can have fun and play – but must be more willing to learn than anything. I believe the sky is the limit, if you put your heart and mind into it. 

Sharon: Never give up. There were points where I was discouraged, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Always strive harder to achieve, to be the best.

Kopano: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because you’re a woman.

Has the course changed your life?

Vhahangwele: I was the kind of person who didn’t care about some things, now I’ve seen that I have to take life seriously. There are things that take patience. That’s why I’m still here today. 

Simphiwe: I’ve grown a lot and it has changed me a lot. Before, I knew nothing about work – I had no experience or business background.

Lebogang: It has changed my life. I wouldn’t go back to working at a petrol station; I’m happy where I am now.

Tshiamo: Sometimes you can look at certain industries and not see the opportunities. When I thought about logistics, I only thought about cars – I never thought about buses and trucks. This is a big step. I think it’s the cornerstone of what I’m to become in the future. If I do my best, I believe I’ll get very far. It’s a really interesting industry, with endless opportunities for growth and learning. 

Susan: The course has changed my life. Now I have work experience and I know that I’m capable of doing things besides being at a desk studying, or behind a screen. I’m grateful for the opportunity and am willing to spend more years learning. 

Sharon: I went to a technical school for matric, but did lots of different things: promotions, construction, short courses. My passion was really in electronics, so I was very happy to get the opportunity. 

Kopano: It has, because I’d never worked before. Also, all the electrical part I’d done was theory – here it was all practical.

Do you plan to study further and, if so, what?

Vhahangwele: I want to finish my N6 in engineering. 

Simphiwe: I want to continue with IT. I was thinking of studying for networking and would like to obtain a degree. 

Lebogang: I’d like to do logistics, through Damelin. 

Tshiamo: I’d like to do courses on project and logistics management. 

Susan: I’m thinking of studying IT, but I don’t want to stick to the norm – I want something more challenging. I want to study somethign that allows me to use my hands, not just sit at a laptop. 

Sharon: Yes, I want to do data analysis. 

Kopano: I want to finish my N6 then go for a trade, then I’ll take it from there.

Do you plan to study further and, if so, what?

Vhahangwele: I want to finish my N6 in engineering. 

Simphiwe: I want to continue with IT. I was thinking of studying for networking and would like to obtain a degree. 

Lebogang: I’d like to do logistics, through Damelin. 

Tshiamo: I’d like to do courses on project and logistics management. 

Susan: I’m thinking of studying IT, but I don’t want to stick to the norm – I want something more challenging. I want to study somethign that allows me to use my hands, not just sit at a laptop. 

Sharon: Yes, I want to do data analysis. 

Kopano: I want to finish my N6 then go for a trade, then I’ll take it from there.

Kruger says he is very proud of the outcome of Vix SA’s decision to take action to make a difference  – despite entering uncharted territory, with no guarantee of success (CSI learnership initiatives tend to prove vulnerable to high dropout rates, even if employment is guaranteed on completion). All 15 Vix learners persevered and performed, notes Kruger. 

“Your attitude will determine your altitude – and our learners’ attitude has been fantastic,” says Kruger. “They’ve embraced the opportunity and made things happen. They’ve been pioneers in this field, paving the way for us to touch the lives of other learners who will follow in their footsteps. This group will be a huge success in whatever they choose to do. And what they’ve taught me is to be prepared to be amazed.”

Following the success of the initiative, Vix SA has earmarked a dedicated training facility for future intakes. The groundbreaking course is also likely to provide a model for Vix to emulate in its other regions and communities (transport ticketing specialist Vix Technology has projects in more than 200 cities and regions across the globe, with 650 personnel across more than 10 countries).

Originally posted on Truck & Bus

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