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Growing talent from within is the answer to the mar-tech skills crisis

Josie Hill Learnership Programme Leader

Most South African technology companies that focus on a niche, face a severe shortage of skills at all levels—from entry-level juniors to senior professionals. This is certainly the case for Acceleration, which operates at a highly specialised intersection between marketing and technology, with a focus on data architecture and operations.

We need a particular profile of professionals with a deep understanding of data and technology, particularly the marketing technology platforms favoured by large organisations around the world. These subjects are not taught at universities or colleges—and poaching staff when the skills pool is so small is simply not sustainable.

Our approach in the past was to employ interns and train them inhouse through on-the-job training. But the reality is that we often need all hands-on deck to focus on client-facing work. Given that the job requirements are complex and sophisticated, it isn’t always easy to delegate training use-cases to juniors.

The answer, we believe, is to invest in growing our own skills base. The model we have developed is a learnership that blends on-the-the-job training with accredited courses at technical academies. The reason that we decided to take this route is that there are no off-the-shelf courses that can equip a young professional with all the skills and proficiencies we require.

One of our biggest challenges is to find people who get what we do – many of them imagine that the role will involve creative strategy or software development. Our response to this challenge is a week-long training module hosted by our technical academy partners. We focus on marketing tech—specifically web analytics—with classroom lectures, online courses, technical assignments, and a practical Google Analytics implementation.

We invite those who showed aptitude and enthusiasm for the module to apply for the learnership. This process includes exercises to assess their skills. By the time an applicant is accepted, he or she understands what we do and what a role with us will entail. The quality of applicants from our first intake was so high that we accepted twice as many applicants as we originally planned to.

The goal is to accelerate recruits through several months of training and then settle them into teams where they can be productive. This will equip them with the base understanding of the industry and tech landscape they will need, to work on complex client projects. They are able to participate in client conversations and support their team members on billable work.

The approach we have developed enables us to:

  • Recruit the right people who understand the role.
  • Train them in a curriculum that covers both soft skills and technical skills.
  • Work with a focused training co-ordinator who can plan and deliver training content.
  • Deliver a programme that nurtures recruits through hands-on practical modules, from simple to complex.

Given the way the world is shifting to more digital ways of working, South Africa’s tech industry has a wonderful opportunity to offer offshore tech services and skills to companies around the world. But if we want to become a powerhouse in technology, it is essential that we think creatively about building and keeping talent. It starts with each company committing to building skills from within.

For more information on the Acceleration Learnership Programme, visit:

The Learnership Program at Acceleration is led by Josie Hill.

About The Author Josie Hill - Learnership Programme Leader

Josie started her journey at Acceleration more than 14 years ago as Director of Training.

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