“It expanded my world! I was exposed to so many different industries and found new direction on my career path.”
So says MBA graduate Gevano Dantu describing his experience of the services offered by the Career Leadership Centre at UCT’s Graduate School of Business (GSB). The centre was formed when the business school’s Department of Alumni Relations and its Careers Services merged in 2020.
“There are two distinct parts to our offering, namely the career leadership programme and industry engagement platforms,” says Azvir Rampursad, UCT GSB’s Corporate Partnership and Careers Manager. “In terms of career leadership, we offer assessments and workshops to current students and recent alumni as well as coaching and mentoring opportunities,” he adds.
Helene Underhay found herself asking questions about her career journey as part of her MBA studies: “It’s a comfort to know that during this process of learning and interrogation we have somewhere to go to and discuss our options. Getting informed, supportive and actionable feedback from the Career Leadership Centre team helps us process everything that is going on one step at a time.”
Students also gain access to a global network of associate coaches – specialists in talent management and leadership development from as far afield as London, Dubai, Munich and Switzerland. The mentorship programme sees students paired up with UCT GSB alumni, who want to stay vitally connected to the school and its current student cohort. The students for their part benefit from inside knowledge of the industry they seek to enter as this is one of the factors considered when mentorship pairings are made.
Student’s in the driving seat
The distinguishing characteristic of the Career Leadership Centre is that students are firmly in the driver’s seat of their own development. The student takes the lead through various experiences – assessments, workshops, coaching and mentoring.
MBA candidate Minaz Munshi, plans to this year make the most of the centre’s offerings: “Although the MBA programme is extremely fast paced, I will prioritise (industry) engagements and the opportunities offered by the centre as they are valuable, purposeful, and enriching.”
The business school’s corporate partners first get to interact with students in networking events at the beginning of the academic year. This is followed by the Future of Work Fair, which is designed to connect students with industry talent managers and alumni experts. This year’s event featured presentations by business leaders from the likes of Mercer, RMB Ventures, Maersk and the JSE, making the 2022 cycle an impactful platform for knowledge exchange and networking at the UCT GSB.
In the second half of the year the UCT GSB hosts four themed conferences, organised by the student clubs in consultation with the Career Leadership Centre. “The students are responsible for among others revenue generation, marketing, and stakeholder engagement. This means that they get a chance to put into practice what they are learning in the classroom, while the Corporate Partnerships and Alumni office ensures alignment and quality,” explains Rampursad.
Real world experience in a safe-to-fail environment
The most important skill acquired by students when organising these conferences is relationship management. They are able to stretch themselves in a safe-to-fail environment and encounter some of the same challenges they’ll find in the world outside of business school.
The students initiate contact with industry contacts held by the centre and must liaise with industry players in order to generate funding for the conferences and invite these role players to present at their conferences. It is at these networking events, which form part of the conferences, that conversations exploring possible recruitment take place. These can lead to more formal engagements resulting in employment upon graduation.
The conference themes are Business Tomorrow, Women in Business, Africa Business and Entrepreneurship. They are open to a wider audience as students not only invite corporates, but also participants from the greater UCT community, Stellenbosch Business School, UWC and private tertiary institutes like Varsity College.
Dantu led the team that organised last year’s Entrepreneurship Conference: “Our team owes a major part of our conference’s success to the Career Leadership Centre. We had international speakers, such as the heads of Google and International Finance Corporation (World Bank). I was only able to make contact with them through the Corporate Partnership and Alumni Office.
Women in Business is the UCT GSB’s oldest club and its conference also serves as a fundraiser. Last year the club raised R300 000 – the largest amount to date – towards a scholarship fund that ensures that more women are able to obtain UCT GSB qualifications.
“Postgraduate studies are not only about marks and learning, but they are also about personal reflection, challenge, and growth. Students need to ensure they are getting a holistic experience during their studies and the centre offers various avenues to do just that,” concludes Munshi.