Thembile Ndlovu once met a young entrepreneur from Ghana who was building drones. When she first met him, he talked about a world where drones would carry big cargo. “It’s possible,” he said. He believed that anything was possible. Thembile’s job was to inspire him to make his seemingly crazy idea a reality. A year later, he was already delivering small parcels across Ghana with his drones. “This is what I love about my job!” Thembile says.
Thembile is the Microsoft 4Afrika YALI Regional Leadership Centre Programme Manager in sub-Saharan Africa. She is also co-founder of the non-profit organisation, Authentic Chicks Talk. Most won’t believe that it was only one year ago when Thembile started her career journey, as an intern with the Microsoft 4Afrika Internship Programme.
On World Youth Skills Day, we chatted to Thembile about her journey, how she got to where she wants to be, and how she is inspiring other youth to harness their skills to reach their goals.
Explain how the YALI Leadership Centres work
The YALI Regional Leadership Centres are fairly new in the region. Microsoft is the leading ICT company in Africa to partner with YALI through its leadership programme – the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The programme empowers Africa’s future leaders through academic coursework, leadership training and networking.
This year, the Fellowship is looking to provide 1,000 outstanding young leaders from sub-Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. higher education institution, with support for professional development after they return home. This means that in addition to the initial support, education and experience they receive in the U.S, the participants will continue to receive professional development opportunities, mentoring, networking, training and funding for their businesses when they return home.
Why would you encourage youth to take on internships?
A lot of young people find the idea of an internship to be quite daunting – which it is – but you need to take that initial step to start building your confidence. We all leave university with the dream of landing a well-paid job to either start our adult life or start paying off our student loans. But the fact is that landing a job right away can be a challenge. Universities play a significant role in building up our CVs, but they often can’t give you practical, on-the-ground job experience, which is what every employer looks for. Universities also don’t often teach workplace soft skills, such as email etiquette or office conduct. As a result, there’s a big mismatch between the skills students have and the skills employers need.
The best way to gain experience quickly, avoid job hopping and start building a solid career early is through an internship. As Program Manager for YALI at Microsoft, I have become an advocate for internships. In addition to learning about a company, your role and/or career path, internships also teach you a lot about yourself. You have room to decide what industry you like, absorb as much information as possible and make mistakes if need be, with the assurance that your manager will be there to guide you. I learnt so much in my first year and it’s because I wasn’t afraid to get my hands dirty, work hard and learn from my mistakes.
How was your experience as an intern?
My internship with Microsoft 4Afrika was my first “formal” employment after university. Coming in, the corporate world was overwhelming – in a good way. One of the things that I soon learnt, on my first day to be exact, was how to be agile. Working in such a fast-paced environment, I learnt to understand that things change due to circumstances and you need to be creative in finding new solutions to still deliver excellence. This is a principle that has helped me to survive not only in the workplace, but also in life.
How did you make the leap from intern to Program Manager?
Finding and keeping a job as a young person is not always easy. When I came onboard as an intern I was determined to prove myself, land a permanent job and grow my career. I made a point to not only find out more about my role, but also about what the people around me were doing. I constantly challenged myself by taking on more and doing things that were outside of my job description.
When my current role was advertised, I was encouraged to apply as I had shown interest in the YALI initiative. I had also shown great initiative in the execution of programmes. From the little projects of planning a team building conference from start to end, or doing follow ups with my intern community on their experience, I was a doer. Companies need doers who can come up with great innovative ideas and also execute and deliver on them. The market is crowded, so it’s important for young people to prove themselves in those initial years of employment.
What is your message for World Youth Skills Day?
It’s important to be relevant in a rapidly changing world. Tomorrow is here, the now has passed. The youth need to adapt to change and do things differently. Always be open to trying new things try and making a difference where you can. We need to start living and thinking as leaders now.
To learn more about the Microsoft 4Afrika Internship Programme, visit: https://www.microsoft.com/africa/youth4afrika/