Enterprising School Leavers

Enterprising School Leavers
Learning Brief

New Beginnings Development Centre

New Beginnings for skills-based training

Category: Enterprising School Leavers | Opportunity mediation services | 21 March, 2013 - 14:12


New Beginnings Development Centre was established in 2006 with a vision to address unemployment in the Western Cape by supporting individuals who “have fallen through the cracks” to become active in the job market.  We achieve our vision by providing people with applicable skills which they can utilize in high-job-seeking sectors. Currently in South Africa, there is an employment demand for home-based-carers / frail care workers, call-centre operators, office administrators, and hair-dressers. We train previously unemployed, un-skilled individuals to meet the market demands for these sectors.

Our purpose it to train individuals who would otherwise not have access to standard education systems, or who have traditionally been rejected from formal training avenues, and to give them the skills they need to become employable and earn a wage.  We believe that this impacts unemployment in the community as well as alleviating poverty by improving the quality of life of our students and their families, who indirectly benefit because of the development of the student.

Providing holistic support to students

Our students face many challenges and we know that it is important to provide them with comprehensive support so that they can success in the classroom and in the work place.  Thus, we aim to provide holistic support that focuses on the student as a whole person.

First, we focus on each student and their personal, emotional, and psycho-social development 

Most of our students come from poor families and disadvantaged communities; they have a low educational level; they have had an addiction of some kind; and they have been the victims of some form of abuse.  As such, our students have to first overcome some of the emotional trauma they’ve experienced, and they need to be psychologically and emotionally ready to start changing their lives.

We offer free counselling sessions and have a full-time counsellor on our staff to aid in this recovery process. Moreover, counselling sessions are extended to the student’s family members and children.

Second, we interceded to ensure a supportive home environment for each student

Some of the students lack support and understanding from their family or household members in the pursuit of their skills training. Family members can put pressure on the student to stop their studies in order to take on wage-employment, or they do not respect the student’s need for a quite space and time to complete homework and to study.  This is mentally and practically very difficult for these students.

At times we have had to call families and speak to them on behalf of the student, requesting that the student be released from other duties at home so that s/he can concentrate on the studies.  We have also arranged counselling sessions with the student and spouse or family member to mediate a discussion about the student’s future. 

Third, we aid students with accessing physical resources

Our students come from financially burdened families and they are often pressured to take on low-paying jobs in addition to their studies, or to drop out of the training program in order to work full-time. They have a need to earn money immediately. This need for money often outweighs the long term vision and sometimes the student is pressurized into making a decision “for the now”.  Another issue facing the students is a lack of food and daily nutrition. The link between good nutrition and the ability to concentrate and learn is well established. Finally, travelling costs associated with coming to and from class can be a huge financial burden for many students.

In order to address these resources issues, we have in some cases tried to sway students to resist the temptation to go work and to first complete their courses and training. We involve their family and household in these discussions. We provide our students with a cooked meal at least once or twice a week. In severe cases, where a student has no food at home, we very discreetly, so as to maintain the student’s sense of pride, offer them breakfast in the morning and sandwiches during the day.  We have also gone as far as providing food parcels for students who have expressed concern about not having anything to feed their children. Lastly, in exceptional cases we have assisted students with traveling but this is done on a case by case basis.

Implementation lessons: Resolving classroom-based training challenges

The New Beginnings Development Centre focuses on individuals who have minimal education and who have not completed matric – although we occasionally accept people with a grade-12 certificate. Thus, students entering the program are of different ages and have varying educational levels. This poses many pedagogical challenges for the educators. We have learnt to adapt to these challenges by implementing the following:

·        Administer a comprehension test upon entry: – As an entry requirement, students must have the ability to read, write and understand English and we administer a comprehension test upon entry to determine their comprehension level.  If their comprehension or language skills are too poor we refer them to community-based, local ABET classes and encourage them to come back once they have a completed these courses.

·        Think, pair, and share: – we pair weaker students who battle in class together with a stronger student who is willing to support them. The idea is that they think through difficulties together, and find/share the solutions as a pair.

·        Don’t leave until you get it: – because we believe that all people are capable of learning and absorbing new information, we encourage students not to leave at the end of the day until they have a good understanding of what was taught that day. This requires a committed staff and peer group who are willing to remain after hours to help struggling students.

·        Mind mapping and note taking is important: – because some students have never been taught how to take effective notes, or how to study efficiently, we provide them with notes on how to employ the Mind Mapping technique. We teach and show videos on how to use this technique and on how to take good notes in class.

·        Emphasise tolerance and conflict resolution: – all students take one module on Communication and Conflict Management to help them learn peaceful and effective ways to resolve issues and conflict that may arise in the classroom or in their personal lives.  Our centre is culturally and linguistically diverse and people are forced to interact with others who may not share the same values. This can be very challenging for our students who have struggled in their past lives to deal with such multiplex environments. We endeavour to teach the students to use new skills to resolve issues independently and responsibly. Many students have never learnt such skills before and they have expressed that this is a valuable component of the program.

·        Presentation of self: – we recognize that because our students have lived lives on the fringes of society they enter the program with uniquely low levels of confidence. Facilitating occasions in the classroom for them to present in front of their peers, offers them the opportunity to build on their presentation skills, and to enhance their confidence. Through these presentation exercises, they learn to deal with their anxiety, to support each other and share experiences, and they learn that they are not the only ones who have difficulties. We offer assistance in the techniques of presentation preparation and also breathing exercises to combat anxiety. 

·        Dress for success: – students specialising in frail care work are required to attend classes in full uniform. The uniform is not overly expensive but we understand that this is a cost some students cannot afford. We work on a case by case basis to help them acquire the uniform. We believe that wearing a uniform instils a sense of professionalism, success and pride in our students. It also embodies our vision to help students become gainfully employed because it is worn as a symbolic indicator of the end goal.

Implementation lessons: assisting students to find jobs and transition into the workplace

Most graduates of the New Beginnings Development Centre will enter full-time professional employment for the first time in their lives. We assist them in this transition by providing them with practical experiential training throughout the course, by helping them find a job after they graduate, and by following up with them in the first few months of their new work.

During their coursework period students get placed as interns in various partnering frail-care facilities where they conduct practical training. To help them combat their anxiety they are always placed in organizations in pairs.  Previous group of students are asked to come and address the current group and to share some of their practical experiences. During the practicals we try to arrange a site visit to offer support and guidance – not to conduct an evaluation. Our frail-care partners have welcomed the visits. We also offer practicals for the Office Administration students.

The internships/practicals are not paid positions and so some students struggle financially with the travel-related costs. We assess these cases individually and have occasionally offered some financial support to individual students to help mitigate the travel costs. We also approach the partnering organisations to ask for travel stipends for our students.

Students specialising in frail-care need extra support regarding the nature of their work. Throughout the courses we pay particular attention to the challenges associated with working 12 hour shifts and night time shifts. We give lessons on how to manage time and lifestyle responsibilities under these work conditions and how to prepare their family for the new lifestyle-work arrangements. We also emphasise the sensitive nature of this occupational field, and discuss ways to deal with the emotional trauma of terminal illness, and death – a common reality in frail-care settings. Dealing with patients who die on the job has been a huge challenge for some students. One of our modules covers Palliative Care and the students are prepared for this eventuality. 

Acknowledging our limitations

Our biggest challenge to date has been to place students in organisations for practical training and also to assist our students in finding permanent positions once they leave our centre.  We believe that providing holistic training and support that includes classroom work and a practical component is vital for equipping students with the professional skills they need to find a permanent wage-earning job. The New Beginnings Development Centre is focused and committed to reaching this objective and to ready individuals for the job market. However, we are not able to create jobs, and we are limited in our ability to help graduates of the Centre find employment.

We partner with a number of organisations that have committed to employ our top graduates annually. These organisations, such as Booth Memorial hospital and other old-age homes, can host interns for practical training for a few months, at no expense. In this way they become familiar with our students and our Centre. The 6-year long partnership with these organisations have given us a reputation of producing high-quality students, which has been useful to use as a reference when approaching new partners and companies about hosting future graduates.

To assist our students with permanent employment after graduating, we have also partnered with one of the largest Personnel Recruitment Agencies, who currently have two of our students on practical training.  Once all the students have completed the course, they will be interviewed by the recruitment agency and it is our hope that they will be assisted with finding permanent jobs. 

Further efforts to assist students with employment have included: participating in radio interviews and writing community paper articles to market our Development Centre and raise awareness about our students; advertising on the local radio station, and on the Gumtree website; writing to hospital managers and other potential employees; and advertising on local church bulletin boards.

PO Box 10101 Belhar Ext 7 Cape Town Western Cape South Africa

 +27 021- 952 9801


In Short

In this learning brief the New Beginnings Development Centre shares lessons on how to implement a skills-based training curriculum that offers classroom learning, holistic support, and practical work experience.

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