It is said a nation that fails to invest in its youth fails to invest in its future. This was the motivating factor for the launch of our Saturday Schools programme in South Africa, which celebrates a decade this year.

Royal HaskoningDHV SA Managing Director, Salani Sithole explains how the Saturday Schools target under-privileged communities for the purpose of creating a level playing field and giving everyone a chance to participate in the economy which ultimately translates to building better communities.

Our programme is centred on supporting underprivileged students as we foresee the future necessity of digital learning and working. It aims to improve the marks of scholars in mathematics, science and engineering graphics and design. These classes have benefitted more than 1,400 learners to date and help students gain university places in technical subjects.

Within the programme, teachers are drawn from the professional staff of Royal HaskoningDHV’s offices. They are primarily university graduates currently performing scientific, academic and technical functions for the company on a daily basis.

The use of computers, tablets and digital innovations are a key part of the process; giving the students exposure to things they otherwise wouldn’t have due to background or circumstance and providing an insight into a real working environment and the future way of working.

Our teachers are in contact with the schools of students attending the programme and find out what topics they have been learning about during the week. Then on Saturday they lead sessions that explore those topics in more detail and apply them to real life situations. For example, students will build a bridge to understand what is required of such a project, and then we will take them to one of our actual sites so they can see the process in reality.

During their time with us, students spend days shadowing our employees in our offices, getting to experience the day-to-day working of an engineer. This is where we show how new technologies are used in a working scenario – be it tablets or software – and this part of the process helps to make sure the equipment doesn’t feel too alien for students when they go to university and beyond.

We also organise career days and visits to universities, before helping students apply for bursaries. Again, this is to make the environment feel less strange and intimidating – each step is about making the students we work with feel more comfortable in their abilities and in different situations they will encounter.

Success stories

Once students have left us to go to university we arrange internships for them so they can continue to gain experience and apply their learning and some of them even join us upon graduating. We are proud to have a number of former Saturday Schools programme beneficiaries in our workforce.

Ntsako Masangu completed the full cycle and currently works as an engineer in the Johannesburg office. Ntsako received a bursary from the company for her engineering studies.

Upon completing her studies, Ntsako began an internship in the company and was eventually employed in the Johannesburg office. Ntsako is now a Saturday Schools tutor and gives back by spending her Saturdays tutoring pupils, something she takes great pride in.

Ntsako says her journey through university was amazing and she enjoyed being a student while working during vacations. “I gained a lot of experience that affirmed my decision to be an engineer,” she states.

We are immensely proud of the Saturday Schools programme and we have already begun to expand our reach by working with the Department of Education to train school teachers in using tablets and introducing them to e-learning and other digital innovations. At Royal HaskoningDHV we believe education is a right, and we are proud to be giving back and supporting the engineers that will build the future.