The Professional Provident Society (PPS) Foundation’s targeted approach to assisting students and new graduates with accessing quality tertiary education will ensure increased participation in science, technology, engineering and maths-related (STEM) careers, and the broader economy.
As a financial services company, PPS recognises that STEM degrees are of great value to both the financial services sector and the economy as a whole, particularly in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
PPS only launched its foundation in 2017 (although it was established in 2016), but it has already made significant strides in carrying out its primary mandate: to make a contribution to STEM-related fields in tertiary education. “The PPS Foundation was created as a central hub where the PPS Group’s CSI objectives and initiatives could be carried out. We chose a STEM focus due to our core business and membership base. Most of our clients are professionals within these fields,” explains PPS Group HR Executive, Masenyane Molefe. “Focusing on tertiary education was a natural fit for us, as well as to contribute to filling the skills gap in the country. This creates an ecosystem whereby students or beneficiaries working towards their professional qualifications can still be part of the work done by PPS Foundation, from a point of giving back, since we consider PPS to be the home of graduate professionals.”
The Foundation has taken an approach that will bolster innovation and entrepreneurship in the country, without neglecting more basic skills such as financial literacy and emotional intelligence in the workplace. Its holistic approach ensures that students and graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds can make great strides towards achieving their professional goals.
The Foundation partners with various stakeholders in an effort to increase socioeconomic impact through collaboration. Its ‘pay it forward’ philosophy finds its greatest expression in mentorship, and employee and member volunteerism. PPS Foundation is not only committed to knowledge and skills transfer, but to nurturing successive generations of capable and caring professionals. “Working together is how we create positive, lasting change, which is why we choose to partner with like-minded organisations and individuals. Simply put, as we say – success is better shared,” says Molefe.
Nurturing students and graduates
The PPS Foundation takes a pragmatic approach to student concerns – its bursary programme takes care of the most basic needs of promising undergraduates, covering the cost of their tuition, books, meals and student accommodation. Sixty-one students were funded in 2018 and funding focused largely on science (68%) and maths (18%), with engineering (9%) and other disciplines (5%) making up the balance.
In addition, the Foundation’s food donation programme, which it runs in partnership with Rise Against Hunger Africa, ensures that students in need can focus on their studies without the distraction of hunger. It is well known that hunger leads to a lack of concentration and a drop in academic performance. Last year, employee volunteers prepared more than 60 000 food packs.
The Foundation also runs the highly successful University Support Programme, which goes out of its way to ensure that the teaching and learning experience is improved in public universities and universities of technology. Aside from meal donations, it funds technology centres and labs, and facilities for students living with disabilities, among others. Some 64% of the Foundation’s budget is allocated to the University Support Programme. Its commitment to developing young professionals doesn’t end with tertiary education. PPS Foundation offers two distinct yet complementary programmes for graduates ready to enter the world of work.
Learned, Engaged, Accelerated Professionals
The first of these is LEAP (Learned, Engaged, Accelerated Professionals) – a work-readiness programme that provides candidates with the skills, tools and mechanisms that will allow them to be readily assimilated into the work environment. It also helps to ‘bridge the gap’ between tertiary education and the work environment. Practical workshops focus on some of the ‘soft’ skills that many take for granted, like developing a personal brand, cultivating emotional intelligence navigating the online and social media minefield, preparing for interviews, dealing with rejection, learning about punctuality and time management, and writing CVs. Financial wellbeing is also covered in the programme to help graduates manage their own finances – a critical skill for young professionals who have had to transition from being a student with little to no financial means to earning a salary and the responsibility that comes with that.
Employment and mentorship opportunities
The Foundation’s Graduate Internship Development Programme specifically targets graduates who want to work at PPS. It identifies young talent who would become interns at PPS and enrols them into a 12-month formal programme that provides exposure to the world of work. At the end of the programme, the interns may have the opportunity to be absorbed as permanent employees at PPS. Molefe said that “the intention behind providing interns with hands-on experience and practical skills is to help them carve out their careers as entry-level professionals. “We have also observed that from the experience gained on the programme, there is the increased chance of employability within other reputable organisations, and for us that means a lot.”
Furthermore, the GetReadySkills mentorship programme is offered in conjunction with the PPS Foundation’s online career portal, Professionals Connect. This portal allows students, graduates and entry-level employees to gain career advice and exposure to employment opportunities. This is part of an initiative to retain graduates in the country. Not being able to find a job after graduation is one of the factors driving young South Africans overseas.
The GetReadySkills programme is unique because it helps discouraged job-seeking graduates develop future-fit skills that will serve them well in the ever-evolving world of work. These graduates are mentored in problem-solving, critical thinking, teamwork, networking and a host of other competencies that will give them an edge in the market. “We know unemployment is very high – therefore partnering with GetReadySkills is one of the means whereby graduates are provided with skills that aim to increase their employability within other companies in the programme’s network,” says Molefe. “What we have found valuable is that the programme is keen on unearthing entrepreneurs who can also go on to employ others themselves,” she adds.
Mutuality that drives success
According to Molefe, the focus in 2020 will be on getting more PPS members, employees, as well as members of the public involved. “We want more people to join our circle because the ethos of mutuality drives our success. Therefore, after obtaining the Public Benefit Organisation status, we created a platform where one can now donate towards the PPS Foundation’s work.”
The donations platform is where people donate money and help to further PPS Foundation’s pay-off line of ‘nurturing potential’. The benefit for donors is that they will receive a Section 18A certificate for tax purposes and assist PPS Foundation to continue educating and increasing the pipeline of future graduate professionals in South Africa.