Skills development

Thuthuka Bursary Fund tackles CA shortage

New skills in finance sector essential
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South Africa suffers from a severe skills shortage on almost every front. Whether its mining, engineering or finance, industry leaders need to take swift action to transform their own sectors or face continued decline.

The country’s education legacy will take decades to correct. But it desperately needs skills and, as importantly, it needs to transform. While the government must take responsibility for finding a solution, the problem is short-term and acute. Businesses cannot afford to sit by and wait – which they aren't.

For the last seven years, the FirstRand Group has taken to heart the transformation of its own sector by actively elevating the growth and transformation of the chartered accountancy profession through the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) Thuthuka Bursary Fund.

Thuthuka is a ground-breaking partnership between the government, private sector and media, designed to deal with the here and now. Out of the country's nearly 35 000 chartered accountants [CAs(SA)] only 2 439 are African. Thuthuka does well to address this shortage by giving disadvantaged African and coloured youth the opportunity to fill the void.

Thuthuka not only finances students' education, but also facilitates their success by offering mentorship, paying for university residence fees, providing for monthly living expenses, and ensuring all graduates get to perform their articles in reputable businesses – of which donors get first preference.

“Thuthuka is a phenomenal programme that helps address the shortage of affirmative action CAs,” says FirstRand's CA Training Programme manager, Alexia Towell. “When we first talk to the students, most of them are unaware of what a CA does. Thuthuka is opening these kids' eyes to a whole new world with a much brighter future.”

To date, more than 1 800 students have become part of the Thuthuka legacy. The impact of this will be seen in the years to come as the number of African and coloured CAs(SA) grow at an exponential rate. By 2013, SAICA aims to double the fund's income by drastically increasing its funder base.

Being a bank, FirstRand understands firsthand the importance of the CA(SA) qualification. Since 1998, the company has been actively involved in transforming the profession by giving its staff the opportunity to qualify as CAs(SA). Thuthuka was a great opportunity for FirstRand to further champion the cause and seriously up its contribution. 

FirstRand chief executive Sizwe Nxasana has been on the Thuthuka board of trustees since its inception in 2005. He is a firm believer in Thuthuka's methods and, as a result, the FirstRand Foundation has contributed over R2 million to further the cause – a great way for the financial sector to contribute to the health of the country and skills development within its own boundaries.

“I honestly believe we will see a significant number of Thuthuka graduates remain in SA so they can fulfil their responsibilities,” says Nxasana. “They will do this by acting as role models, adopting social responsibility initiatives, making a great contribution as future leaders of our country.”

When allocating corporate social responsibility spend, businesses need to carefully scrutinise which route will deliver a better return on investment. Thuthuka is a top performer in this regard, as not only does its unique approach to education ensure encouraging and tangible results, but the government has promised to match all private sector donations rand-for-rand – effectively doubling its value.

“Funders range from individual CAs(SA) to commerce and industry organisations, government and foundations,” says Thuthuka project director, Nthato Selebi. “They are contracted for a minimum of three years, which is enough to fund one student's undergraduate studies. Although we are proud to have FirstRand invested in this journey with us, we need to do more.”

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Issue 72