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FEATURE |

Reaching New Heights

South Africa's Success Story


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Kanyisa Damoyi grew up in the small town of Willowvale in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, studied economics and industrial psychology at the University of Fort Hare and started applying everywhere, anywhere, for jobs.

One of the newspaper ads she answered was placed by the South Africa Reward Association (SARA), seeking black college graduates for its six-month intern program in remuneration. When she was called for an interview, Damoyi packed her bags and headed to Johannesburg, a city 10 hours away that she had never visited. Seeing the number of other candidates in the interview waiting room, Damoyi thought she would be very lucky to make the cut. For her second interview, she repeatedly practiced her PowerPoint presentation and ultimately won one of the program’s four coveted spots.

Besides giving her a foundation in remuneration and rewards, Damoyi said, the SARA intern program taught her the practical side of what to expect in the workplace. She started realizing that companies do things differently from each other, and she started meeting people, learning to make a good impression and building a network.

She completed her internship in 2013 and joined her sponsor company, Dimension Data, working on performance management systems and taking part in the annual salary and bonus process. A year ago, she traded the world of information technology for the world of retail, moving to the Wal-Mart subsidiary Massmart and working on its share schemes, non-executive director fees and international mobility.

“It’s life changing,” Damoyi said of SARA’s intern program. “I have gained a lot of friends throughout the program, and I now have a comfort place where I know I can call people if I need advice. I know there are people out there who are always, always available.”

South Africa now has 42 other black remuneration professionals with journeys like Damoyi’s, and it all started at one conference, during one speech, with one question from the audience.

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Mark Bussin, chairman of consulting firm 21st Century Pay Solutions in Johannesburg, was speaking at an Institute of Personnel Management conference when someone put up a hand and waved until he could no longer ignore it.

“Why are there so few black remuneration specialists?” the audience member asked. “And what are you doing about it?”

Given South Africa’s history of apartheid, which denied opportunities to the 80% of the nation’s population who are black, and the dearth of remuneration specialists in the country, it was a logical but eye-opening question. Bussin replied that he didn’t know, but to come back in a year and ask again.

His first thought after the conference, he said, was “let me just train them up over a period of nine months.” He had his assistant place a newspaper ad for black remuneration interns, looking for candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree who had some Excel skills, communicated well and showed passion for the work. Scores of candidates, many from poor areas of South Africa, responded.

Bussin selected three, put them on 21st Century’s payroll and gave them desks and laptops. Interns came to the office daily, and whichever consultant was free for a few days would begin showing them elements of the total rewards model. “I could squeeze three people next to my desk and show them what I’m doing,” he recalled.

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From left: Kanyisa Damoyi, Vincent Khoza, Rebone Banda, Nkagisang Moroka. 

The consultants taught the interns how to write job descriptions, look up salary surveys, and eventually design incentive schemes. 21st Century also offered courses on topics such as job evaluations and salary structures, and remuneration professionals who enrolled in the courses graciously allowed the interns to sit in.

In 2006, after the three were trained, Bussin called companies that he thought could hire them. Another advertisement went out, Bussin chose another three interns, and so the program continued for four more years. Bussin’s colleagues on SARA’s executive council saw his program grow, so when he urged them to make it a national initiative, the association stepped in to take the program to new heights.

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Yolanda Sedlmaier, a SARA council member and now a principal consultant in executive rewards at Mercer Consulting in South Africa, took over the program in 2010. “It was great to see these youngsters eager to learn,” she said. “Personally, I love giving back, I love teaching people, mentoring young people, and seeing them develop from nothing. This industry, the reward profession, has been good to me, and I wanted to teach others.”

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From left: Moses Sekwakwa, Nonjabulo Tabede, Mbali Mdladla,Vuyisa Sikunyana.

The program began targeting candidates with degrees in commerce, human resources, finance or statistics, working with universities to promote the program to students. It added psychometric testing and the completion of case studies to the selection process. It also signed sponsor companies to front the costs of interns’ general needs, especially transportation, and to hire interns at the program’s end.

From about 70 applicants, 18 are chosen to be interviewed by a panel and eight to 10 are called back for second interviews. SARA aims for a mix of the interns’ universities, cultures and backgrounds, and sponsor companies make the final selection of the four interns they hope to hire.

The internships have evolved into a six-month, structured program that combines theoretical knowledge and practical experience to give interns a foundation in remuneration. In SARA boot camp, interns learn from senior professionals about performance management, job analysis and evaluation, fixed and variable pay, benefits and governance and reporting. They take courses in using MS Office Suite software and in writing business material such as agendas and executive summaries.

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From left: Pumelela Mpengula, Musa Masingi, Yolanda Sedlmaier, Nkateko Sithole, Nyeleti Mugari.

Eight members of SARA’s executive council from eight different companies help train interns. Interns go to host companies for two days, a week or two weeks, Sedlmaier said, where professionals share their knowledge and interns get to see how different firms operate. Each month, interns write reports on what they learned at the host companies, and the reports become tools they can refer to and portfolios to show sponsor companies what they’ve done. The program also conducts midyear and final assessments of the interns’ progress.

Networking is another important component. SARA encourages interns to build their networks and remember the people they meet at each company, prompting sponsor companies to jump at the chance to hire the young professionals. “They snap them up,” Bussin said, “because they know they’re going to spend time with the top names in the top consulting houses and the top companies.”

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Nonjabulo Tabede grew up living with her grandmother in a small, semi-rural town in Mpumalanga province. An admitted overachiever who majored in archaeology and industrial psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand, she neared graduation and began applying for jobs, getting rejection after rejection.

SARA, though, invited her to interview for the intern program. Tabede recalls the interview, test and presentation process as nerve-wracking, and after each step she was sure she wouldn’t get a spot. SARA, for its part, saw potential that Tabede didn’t see in herself.

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From left: Tom Tsebe, Amogelang Mauwane, Yolanda Sedlmaier, Sibongiseni Ntuli, Lihle Ngcwama. 

After she was accepted, she started from scratch learning about rewards, asking questions everywhere and building a career foundation from the bottom up. One-on-one conversations with high-level professionals helped break the shyness barrier and showed her how much they were willing to share knowledge and help.

“It’s not just a pebble, a stepping stone, but it’s a huge rock, it’s a boulder for starting your career,” she said of the program. “It’s a great opportunity for growing in a career that could be propelled in any direction, that has so many avenues to explore.”

SARA’s intern program all started with one question: Why are there so few black remuneration specialists... and what are you doing about it?

She completed her internship in 2017 and joined the retail banking section of her sponsor company, Barclays Africa, where she works on reward management, performance management, share schemes and international mobility. She’s grateful for the SARA members who want to help grow the next generation of rewards professionals.

“My journey has been one of learning, continued learning and realizing that learning will never end,” she said. “More than kick starting a career, it has taught us to give back.”

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Forty-three interns have completed SARA’s program and gone on to positions in rewards at some 40 companies, ranging from consulting to banking, energy to mining. All but one still works in rewards or human resources, Sedlmaier said. Many are still with their sponsor companies, and Sedlmaier routinely gets emails about interns’ promotions. The former interns network with each other and gather for annual reunions. Four more interns started in January.

“Some moved amazingly fast,” Sedlmaier said.

“They will all say that this gave them an opportunity like nothing they could have had.”

The internships have paid off for SARA, too. Its newsletters cover the program’s efforts to further the rewards profession, and interns themselves talk up SARA and its vision of giving back to the profession. For remuneration professionals who already have made it to the top of their careers, Bussin said, “it’s a wonderful opportunity for them to do something that gives back to the community and is a really worthy cause.”

Bussin and Sedlmaier think the program could be applied in other countries or in ways to include more people whose race, gender or education level is underrepresented in rewards. “It’s a question of us developing our own professionals from within — growing our own timber, as it were,” Bussin said.

Meanwhile, Bussin still is looking for the person who had the courage to question him mid-speech about South Africa’s lack of black remuneration specialists. He’d invite the questioner to the interns’ next reunion to see the changes that question sparked.

“They did something absolutely fantastic,” he said, “and they don’t even know.”