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Programme sees pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds encouraged to seek careers in property industry

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South Africa's property industry has potential to become a career for many young people who often do not know, or consider, the opportunities it can offer.

Many students believe the real estate sector involves only the buying and selling of properties, while their families may feel it does not offer the scope and prestige of careers in, for example, medicine or engineering.

However, a partnership between the private sector and academia, which started in 2017, aims to change that while also answering the call from President Cyril Ramaphosa for government, business and civil society to work together to ensure young people can meaningfully participate in the economy.

A learner job shadow programme aimed at Grades 11 and 12, and run between the University of Cape Town’s 100UP, the national Youth in Property Association (Yipa) and the Western Cape Property Development Forum (WCPDF), has seen the first two students register for degrees in the built environment.

Both Ntombozuko Zothe and Sive Mankayi attended the programme in 2018, while in Grade 12, and have successfully completed their first year at UCT. Zothe is now in the second year of a BSc in construction studies, and Mankayi is in her second year of a BSc in property studies, says Dacre Hattingh, convenor of the WCPDF’s internship programme and a development manager with the Eris Property Group.

“The collaboration between Yipa and the property development forum began specifically to fast-track transformation in the industry by exposing high school pupils from areas such as Khayelitsha, where both Zothe and Manyaki come from, to careers within the industry.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to start to see pupils who have come through the programme decide to enter the built environment. It means our objectives are being achieved, and we have no doubt these two students and others who follow them will be embraced by the industry as soon as they have their degrees.”

Zothe was hosted by Peerutin Architects on the job shadow programme, and it was a visit to a construction site that sealed her future career ambitions. “I was fascinated by the way buildings rise and how so many teams work together to create a structure. I had no idea.”

Inspired, she intends to become a project manager. In her second-year class of 55, about 20 students are women. “It’s not about gender roles at all.” She believes the biggest obstacle to transformation is the lack of knowledge among pupils in disadvantaged communities about the many career possibilities in the industry.

Mankayi says: “When you come from a township, like I do, you just don’t know about this world. In particular, you don’t know what stream you should be following at school to get into it.”

After spending time with Redefine Properties in 2018, he made the decision to join a similar operation once he completes his degree. This will be followed by an honours degree with a focus on property technology, a field he had “no idea existed before I started my degree”. He said he would welcome far more involvement from institutions such as UCT to engage with pupils and recruit them even earlier than Grade 11.

“It would be incredibly useful to know that subjects, such as physics, mathematics and accounting, are particularly needed towards studying property-related degrees.”

While 100UP targets school pupils overall from disadvantaged backgrounds to coach them towards university access, Yipa was started in 2017 by six black students studying towards property-related degrees at UCT. They realised how few students of colour were in the stream.

“In the early stages, we do not discuss occupations of the built environment with children, and do not make them aware of the significant role the industry plays in their dayto-day lives,” says Zahraa Parker, currently Yipa’s head of Western Cape and herself studying BSc Property Studies.

“This is still the case in many parts of the Western Cape. Changing this could change the fundamental interest of youth in the built environment.” She urges companies to step up to the plate. “Although we see an increase in the interest of youth in the built environment, there is still not enough exposure to it. 

“There must be an increased willingness among professionals to create opportunities, such as the job shadow programme, in order to capture more of the youth.”

Held twice a year, the next job shadow programme will run from March 25 to 26, and a few places are still available for participating companies. WC property development forum chair Deon van Zyl, and chief executive of Alwyn Laubscher & Associates, says: “We find the list of pupils eager to take part is growing from programme to programme, and we would love to accommodate every last one. This is how we truly move forward with the transformation of the industry.”

The issue of transformation will also be highlighted at the forum’s seventh annual conference due to be held at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in May.

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