Renault graduate programme excels as springboard for employment opportunities

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  • R3.4 million investment in non-technical  training and development
  • R1 million on graduate programme
  • 19 graduates  on  2010/2011 programme
  • 13 of 84 Head Office employees from graduate programme

Renault South Africa’s robust graduate programme is proving a successful bridge for young South Africans making the transition from university to a working career.

Renault Graduate

The automotive company – which invests around R3.4 million annually on non-technical training and development across its head office and dealer network – currently has 19 interns on its graduate programme. The graduate programme is one thrust of the company’s overall training and development strategy which encompasses career development, succession planning and work-readiness.

Jenni Stephen, Renault SA’s HR director, is particularly passionate about the graduate programme which was borne out of a realisation that the biggest challenge facing graduates leaving tertiary education is the barrier to employment through lack of work experience. “The aim of our graduate programme is to offer this pool of excited and vibrant young South Africans the opportunity to grow and develop in a real-life working environment so that they can be prepared to take positions within our organisation or elsewhere.”

Underscoring the need for such a stepping stone, Stephen notes that she receives around 200 applications for intern positions advertised. Following a pre-screening process, the candidates – who must be under 28 years of age, either living in or able to move or commute to Johannesburg, and in possession of a national diploma or degree – are whittled down to a shortlist of eight and then three finalists.

Bijal Harilall joined Renault South Africa in 2007 armed with a media and communications degree, as well as honours in marketing, from the University of Natal and immediately found herself working on the Renault Formula 1 Roadshow.

After the standard 18-month graduate period, during which time Harilall gained experience in communications, eventing and promotions, she was offered fulltime employment as the internal communications officer. In 2010 Bijal was promoted to junior product manager and is now in charge of the Mégane range.

“I had never considered the motor industry as an option before but with the experience I’ve gained here, I’ve even been headhunted,” jokes Harilall who has no intention of leaving. “I have a career path at Renault and I’m aiming to become senior product manager within the next three years.”

The company’s current batch of interns occupy positions in a  range of disciplines including marketing, communications, distribution, parts, HR, finance, sales and operations and a secretarial graduate position has been newly created.

“If a fulltime position in a particular field becomes available at the end of the internship period, graduates are encouraged to apply,” says Stephen, adding that over-and-above the 19 current graduates on the programme, of the 84 permanent employees at Renault’s head office, 13 are from the graduate programme.

While previously disadvantaged individuals (PDIs) are an obvious target, those who have worked hard to overcome obstacles are a focus. Callinah Makofane was schooled in rural Mpumalanga and finished her education at Cedar City Campus after being one of five top students to be awarded a scholarship.

While studying for a BA degree specialising in marketing and HR, Makofane was one of two top students chosen to study in the UK and Belgium. On completing her degree on her return to South Africa, she stumbled on the Renault graduate programme in 2007 through Campus Recruitment.

She is now a marketing and sales planning analyst, a specialised and challenging position which entails forecasting sales and stock volumes, and advising product managers on the market and how the company is performing. “Working at Renault has been a great opportunity,” says Makofane. “I find this company gives you more responsibility than others and allows you to take charge of projects which inspires me.”

Graduates like Neo Sanga – a new intern who was previously with a NGO – are sometimes exposed to other disciplines in the course of their work. An HR practitioner, who provides training statistics for BBBEE (broad based black economic empowerment) reporting, Sanga also finds himself involved in IT through the Renault Virtual Academy website, which provides sales executives and managers with product information.

“I’ve never studied IT before,” says Sanga who majored in HR at the University of Johannesburg. “Now I’m uploading Distance Learner Guides onto the website for training purposes.” Intent on garnering as much expertise and knowledge as possible to further his career, Sanga aims to be in a middle manager position within the next four years.

A measure of the success of Renault’s graduate programme is that it was given prominence at last year’s merSETA (Manufacturing, Engineering and Related Services Sector Education and Training Authority) conference where South Africa’s 1.7 million unemployed was addressed.

“Although we can’t make a difference on 1.7 million, we’ve made a difference each year on 18 youngsters and for an organisation as small as ours, that’s a sizeable chunk,” says Stephen proudly. “Renault is quite nimble in that we’ve managed to match a need inside with one outside and create a really successful programme.”

Stephen says that the graduate programme will continue as long as the company is operating in South Africa. “We see sense and value in it and we’ve built it into our budget going forward.”