It is a bitter irony that in a country with an unsustainably high unemployment rate that there is a biting skills shortage, especially in the IT industry. In this environment, it is not unusual to read that attracting talent may be hard enough, but retaining it proves even more challenging. Insaaf Daniels, Human Capital Director at redPanda Software. Attracting talent from the outside will always be an important pillar in any organisation’s recruitment strategy, especially for roles that need to be filled immediately and where there is no obvious candidate internally

However, shifting tactically to proactively build a human capital strategy to grow talent from within not only goes a long way towards addressing the challenges mentioned, it builds a stronger, more robust, resilient and competitive business, and – importantly – goes a long way towards developing individuals. The sense of agency and pride in personal growth is a beauty to behold.

Growth is an ongoing journey. It certainly isn’t about achieving a certain milestone and then coasting for the rest of your career. Building an environment that encourages and supports growth is crucial. Consider this: Some individuals, for a number of reasons, excel at setting goals, honing skills and preparing for interviews, while others need guidance and closer support.

At redPanda Software, we understand that this disparity often boils down to factors such as knowledge, access to learning resources and mentorship. These support structures must be in place if an organisation is serious about growing from within.

Secondly, there needs to be a focused and dedicated strategy to help existing staff and leaders buy into the company culture, values and mission. When interns are brought into the business, this company culture is transferred to them through mentorship and, frankly, just being in the same space.

By the time the person is halfway through an internship programme, they are, in many ways, already entrenched and part of the organisation – a big step towards being a good employee fit for the organisation. As they work through the programme they are already aware of expectations and obligations, and where they can add value and where they need to grow. This is the opposite of an internship programme for its own sake.

Any business that has invested in internship programmes will know the challenge of retaining interns who face challenging situations. What does that mean? It could mean the mentor is temporarily unavailable, or that there is pressure of delivery and there are parts of the job they just aren’t getting right – yet. However, if they have already bought into the values and mission, they’ll see their potential future and growth, and feel an affinity towards the organisation and be more likely to work through current challenges and grow within the organisation.

At redPanda Software, we firmly believe that the responsibility for personal growth lies with each team member. The onus is on them to put their hands up, to seek out challenges, to apply for internal positions and to work with and learn from mentors. However, we go beyond this belief by arming our team with the essential tools and resources needed to foster their individual development.

This comprehensive approach includes facilitating goal-setting discussions with their managers, providing targeted training and developmental opportunities aligned with their roles, and extending our support to their personal aspirations. Moreover, we actively promote mentorship by encouraging interaction with our seasoned team members and implementing structured learning programmes to further enrich their skills and expertise.

redPanda Software has run a successful internship programme for more than a decade, which serves as a catalyst for empowering South Africa’s youth in the context of unemployment and driving sustained growth in the software development industry in the context of a skills shortage. The results speak for themselves – we have an impressive 80% transition rate of interns into permanent roles within our organisation.

These roles range from human capital to software development, QA analysis, technical specialisations and support services. Our structured internship initiatives offer not only professional guidance but also one-on-one mentorship, leveraging the collective expertise – and values – of our dedicated team.

We only take in apprenticeships if there is genuine potential for full-time employment. Mentors are assigned, and there are regular check-ins. During these sessions, we ask interns to discuss challenges they encountered in the time since the last session and to discuss how they overcame them.

The idea is that if there were no challenges, there was no growth. It is important when young people may want to throw up their hands in despair, to ask: What are you doing about it? It is still your growth, is it not? This is important as it builds a workplace-ready, resilient mindset. It is important to give interns a sense of what it is like in the workplace – complete with realistic expectations and a sense of responsibility and accountability.

Beyond this, we have forged a strategic alliance with redAcademy, a dedicated on-the-job training academy committed to nurturing South African youth on their journey from matric to becoming software developers. In 2022, we welcomed nine new junior employees into our organisation, marking the successful culmination of their redAcademy programmes. These individuals exhibited readiness not only to integrate seamlessly into existing teams but also to form entirely new teams, delivering outstanding results on client projects.

At redPanda Software, we recognise that our employees’ growth journeys are intertwined with our own. It’s not all rose-tinted glasses. While we celebrate our achievements, we acknowledge that our path to growth is not without its challenges. Some of the hurdles we face include the complexities of providing effective mentorship, the intricacies of tailoring individualised growth plans to diverse needs and goals, and the delicate balancing act of ensuring employees and juniors have the opportunity to grow without becoming overwhelmed by their responsibilities.

These challenges, however, are met with resilience and an unwavering commitment to overcoming them, further reinforcing our dedication to nurturing talent and fostering growth at redPanda Software.

What does nurturing employees look like in real life?

Ensuring employees are engaged is keyRachel Pareira was promoted to QA Analyst. She writes: “At redPanda Software, you’ll discover that there are numerous options for upskilling; all you have to do is put up your hand and seize the opportunities.”

Nicole Dikotla was promoted from within to Software Support Engineer: “The organisation provides opportunity for skills, growth, a favourable work-life balance, recognition for accomplishments, and a lovely culture, which is what I love most about redPanda Software.”

Mapula Hanyane went from intern to Junior Software Developer: “I would say that redPanda Software provides individuals with an opportunity to grow themselves. I would say if you go above and beyond for what you want out of your career they will truly help you succeed.”

Anthea Peters moved from a Support Analyst to a Team Lead: “I have found that the work environment has provided a safe space allowing free communication, to learn, to problem solve, to interact with team members, to mentor associates, and to socialise within a comfortable setting. My redPanda Software journey has led me to meet amazing people, and to grow by example from role models and friends who have mentored and inspired me.”

And finally, I joined redPanda Software as a Human Capital Business Partner. I was promoted to General Manager level, and today I am a Director and part of the board that runs this business. In all these roles I asked how I could make a difference and move the business forward. But what’s been the biggest driver of my upward trajectory?

A company culture where it is welcomed when you put up your hand, that offers support when you feel vulnerable, and that has senior staff who lend a hand and provide mentorship when you need to grow. For the next step of my journey I have joined an external forum of HR Directors, so that we can mentor and learn from each other. Take the time to invest in an internal human capital growth strategy – it works, inspires and fulfils.

Insaaf Daniels, Human Capital Director at redPanda Software.

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