Umuzi - launching high-potential young people into 4IR careers

Umuzi gives high-potential young people from vulnerable communities hard & soft skills to pursue high-value digital careers in the 4IR.

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  • Yes, I fulfill all of the eligibility criteria.

Initiative's representative name

Gilbert Pooley

Initiative's representative date of birth


Initiative’s representative gender

  • Man

Which eligible market are you based in?

  • South Africa

Where are you making a difference?

Gauteng Province, Western Cape Province

Website or social media url(s)

When was your organisation founded?


Focus areas

  • Reskilling and upskilling the workforce

Project Stage

  • Scaling (expanding impact to many new places or in many new ways) 

Yearly Budget: How much capital do you need to accomplish your proposed project?

  • $1mil - $5mil

Organisation Type

  • Non-profit / NGO

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed

We ran township photography workshops from 2009-12, helping youth document challenges. The major issue was unemployment. Our aha moment was the dire need for high-quality tertiary education leading to high-value careers. Inspired to provide alternative routes to these careers, we developed a pilot for 50 youth: accelerated, high-quality education & work experience at a top employer, offering photography & graphic design. Another aha moment was the high employment rate of graphic designers vs. photographers, teaching us to be demand-driven & link each training opportunity to an employer. This led us to the high-growth tech sector. The ±200 youth on our program are now web developers, data scientists & data engineers, based on market demand.

2. The problem: What problem surrounding employability or financial capability are you helping to solve?

Youth unemployment in SA is a crisis. Official unemployment for youth 15-24 is 55.2%. Young blacks are worse off than other racial groups. 6m unemployed youth are not reaching their potential & more are under-employed in low-value jobs. Current youth programs focus on training low-skill & low-value roles & don’t inspire rewarding careers. By helping talented black youth access high-value careers, we unlock massive value for young people & society

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Umuzi works with leading employers to equip talented young people with scarce digital skills needed to access high-value careers & thrive in the digital economy. Umuzi supports high-potential, un-/under-employed young people improve their employability & enter the job market in tech & creative sectors, with particular focus on full-stack web development & data science. The Umuzi program gives high-potential young people a route into sustainable careers, changing the trajectory of their lives & impacting families & communities. By tackling un/under-employment, we not only address personal challenges, we increase the skills base of South Africa, contributing to the economic growth of the country. Our 12-month program includes technical skills training, project work & work experience. Recruits undergo a rigorous selection process including aptitude & personality tests. The top candidates are interviewed & tested on the job before being offered 12-month training. Trainees receive counselling support; life skills training; work experience; job application & entrepreneurship support. Umuzi builds high-value talent pipelines with leading South African employers into tech growth sectors.

4. How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solving the problem?

We work with employers to assess skills needed in the digital economy. Demand for digital skills is increasing & shows no sign of abating. To keep pace with employer needs, we regularly identify new career development pathways & broaden opportunities for high-potential youth. Our curriculum is always evolving, reflecting the rapid pace of change in tech-related careers. We continually evaluate our program & our recruitment process to ensure we not only meet employers’ needs but the needs of the youth we serve. Our strong connections to our alumni community give usw insight into the trends young people follow, so we can quickly adapt our communication methods. By constantly assessing the make-up of each new intake, we can instantly spot gaps

5. Employability: how is your organization or project teaching people to develop the skills that they need to survive in the future job market?

Umuzi pays trainees a stipend, which covers basic living costs. In addition to the technical skills outlined above, we provide life skills training, counselling, and accommodation if needed, in a holistic package of support. After initial technical skills training, trainees learn on the job, working in multi-disciplinary teams on live projects, before spending three months with an employer gaining authentic work experience. The following outlines the Umuzi learnership syllabus: 1-2 weeks - Bootcamp: Introduction to Design Thinking ±3 months - Crash course: Technical skills training ±6 months - Specialisation: Project work refining technical skills, working in multidisciplinary product teams ±3 months - Work Experience: Internship at employer partner

5a. Please describe which future-oriented skills your organization is focused on fostering and how you have measured / plan to measure progress

As mentioned in responses to earlier questions, Umuzi supports unemployed young people to access digital careers, including web development, data science, business analysis and user experience design. We have recently added software testing and data engineering to our training portfolio. All these skills are future-oriented and an essential part of 4IR. We assess trainees on an ongoing basis, along multiple dimensions.

7. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Umuzi is not unique in providing work readiness tech training in South Africa, & we are not the only NPO doing so. What sets us apart from industry counterparts is the way we prepare youth for high-value careers. We are: Career-focused: over 80% of alumni are in top tech & creative careers. Demand-driven: we focus on the most in-demand high-value digital skills. Practical & project-based: trainees learn technical, conceptual & professional skills by building great products. Collaborative: everyone chooses a speciality & works in cross-functional product teams. Accredited: by the MICT SETA.

8. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

To date Umuzi has benefitted more than 500 un(der)employed young people since 2014; over 80% are currently in high-value jobs. In 2019 alone, Umuzi supported over 180 unemployed young people to access digital careers, including web development, data science, business analysis and user experience design. The starting salaries for our alumni average ±R96,000-240,000 p.a. ($6,500-16,200) and climb rapidly to R300,000 p.a. ($20,300), or more, within three years. Over the past three years Umuzi has expanded training content, premises and staff complement. We have extended our reach from Gauteng to the Western Cape, South Africa’s two major economic centres. Our corporate partners have expressed long-term commitment, because we are able to provide a steady stream of qualified and high-value young people with scarce skills. We are now poised to take Umuzi to much greater scale.

9. Financial Sustainability Plan. Can you tell us about you plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

Employers pay Umuzi to train young people in the sought-after skills we have described. 90% of our income derives from this activity. Our business model is sustainable due to the continued and growing need for talented employees with digital skills. As we develop new career pathways, we pilot them with employers by seeking donor funding to prove our ability to train young people on new skill sets. As businesses realise that we can supply them with highly skilled talent in new disciplines, they are willing to pay for future cohorts of trainees, as they currently pay for the web developers, data scientists, etc. we train.

10. Team

Umuzi is led by joint MDs, Gilbert Pooley & Andrew Levy, & a senior leadership team of 4 who manage partnerships (external), people (internal), operations & finance, products & the product owners for the 2 learnership streams: creative & tech. Our decentralised management structure enables a great deal of autonomy and agility in the business. Our success is based on our shared purpose. Each function is supported by a robust team of managers (mid-level & junior), mentors, product owners & admins.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Search engine

Evaluation results

1 evaluation so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation:

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2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

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3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

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4. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

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6. FEEDBACK: Highlights

IMPACT POTENTIAL: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) – and you have a concrete plan for future impact. You have specific tools for measuring impact. - 100%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful solutions - 100%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work operationally and financially in the present and future; your plan is specific and you value sustainability. - 100%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You have a good plan on how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 0%

Other option - 100%

7. FEEDBACK: Areas for Improvement

IMPACT POTENTIAL: make sure to provide specific instances of your social impact (or how you plan to measure impact) – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, the main activities/products, and provide evidence of (or plan for) impact evaluation - 0%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: make sure to describe how your solution is unique and innovative – it is helpful to include the research you have done on past solutions and how your solution is different from (and/or builds upon) these. - 0%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 0%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: make sure you describe your plan for how to empower others to become changemakers through your programming, service, or product - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to be concise, descriptive, and specific. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

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