The transformative power of the Dell Young Leaders Program: The journey from University to work

This post is part of a series profiling Dell Young Leaders. You can read the series introduction here and hear from other Dell Young Leaders here.

In 2010, we launched the Dell Young Leaders Program to help students with high potential from disadvantaged backgrounds succeed at the University of Cape Town and the University of Pretoria. From the start, the program was designed to offer students much more than a check – from academic tutoring, to mentoring, to assistance obtaining basic supplies such as emergency food, textbooks, and toiletries. But as our first cohort of students got closer to graduation, we realized that getting a Bachelor’s degree is only half the journey. We knew that we also needed to get our graduates ready for the world of work.

South African corporates have voiced concern that our universities are not adequately preparing students for the world of work, particularly in professional occupations – such as lawyers, engineers and accountants – and young people of color are significantly underrepresented in these fields. To help close this gap, we created the Work Readiness program. The program gives Dell Young Leaders pursuing professional degrees the tools they need to meet the many challenges of finding employment after graduation – everything from interview skills, to preparing for interviews, and creating a CV.

As part of the program, we engage with corporations and conduct seminars with human resources consultants, encouraging companies to recruit Dell Young Leaders. By creating a link between corporate South Africa and the universities, we have inspired companies to help prepare our students for work through pro-bono activities like mock interviews and CV feedback. We’re particularly proud that that one of our corporate partners has created a social responsibility project around the Dell Young Leaders Program this year. The project includes a six-month work readiness program with workshops and one-on-one coaching sessions for potential graduates.

And we’re seeing the fruits of our efforts in the achievements of our students gaining full time employment.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be highlighting what it took to get our students into the world of work, as told first-hand by some of our graduates who have found gainful employment as professionals in their chosen fields. Each week, a Dell Young Leader will share his or her journey from university to work, and what it has meant to them and their family to get that first job interview, first job offer, or first paycheck.

And we’re seeing the fruits of our efforts in the achievements of our students gaining full time employment.

These are truly inspiring stories from first-generation university students who have faced enormous disadvantages. Many are raised by a single parent or by a grandparent after being orphaned. They have no one at home to help them navigate school and work. Consider too that their first paycheck represents more money than their family has seen in a lifetime.

Bianca is such as student. After struggling to obtain a law degree, she changed to social science. Unfortunately there are few job opportunities in that field of study. So, we engaged with KPMG South Africa on her behalf and the company was able to place her in their Human Resources department. Yet that was only the beginning of Bianca’s challenges. Growing up in Cape Town, she found it difficult to leave her family for Durban, roughly 21 hours away by car, where she knew no one. We helped her find an apartment, negotiate rent and deal with the stress of being away from home and having so must trust placed in her by her managers.

These are just some of the obstacles that we coach our students through so they may build a career and a life for themselves, independently. And today these graduates are the living embodiment of the transformative power of the Dell Young Leaders Program. We are humbled by the stories of graduates like Bianca and are proud to share them.