Unemployment rates in South Africa averaged 25.25% from 2000 until 2014 according to Statistics SA. With the employment market remaining competitive, graduates continue to need skills that set them apart from their fellow graduates.
Workplace experience is often cited as a crucial gap at universities and many students graduate with no work experience whatsoever. In a study by PepsiCo in 2012 two thirds of 537 employers surveyed said that graduates with a placement year under their belt were more employable than those with no industry experience, indicating that this problem is not uniquely South African. Tertiary institutions have an important responsibility in bridging the gap between the employer’s needs and the graduate’s skills.
SACAP is one of the few academic institutions in South Africa to include a practical fieldwork module as a significant element of its training within a number of qualifications. “SACAP’s fieldwork component is the culmination of the educational journey that our students have travelled with us. We believe that having the opportunity to enter the field while still being supported with supervision, guidance and advice from one’s training institution, not only greatly benefits the students, but is something that makes our qualifications different from many others.” Says Managing Director Zerina Royeppen.
SACAP aspires to make a significant contribution to the enormous task of providing ethical, skilled and knowledgeable practitioners to address the range of mental health challenges currently facing South Africa, effecting transformation at both a micro and macro level.
Qualifications at SACAP have a unique supervised fieldwork component that forms an intrinsic part of the students learning. Fieldwork incorporates an integrated learning experience where students are provided with an opportunity to work alongside communities and get real life experience on the ground. They are thus able to integrate theory and practice and gain the necessary practical experience while they study so that they graduate with confidence and work-ready skills.
Fieldwork is where training really comes to life, offering a comprehensive practical placement within an organisational setting that is related to a specific counselling area, e.g. working with adolescents, addiction, trauma and more.
According to Royeppen, the SACAP fieldwork experience is one of its kind. “It is in the field that our students experience their steepest learning curve. Albeit daunting, this is where they begin the exciting journey of connecting with clients in a real world context and making a real difference and a positive impact in the lives of others,” she says.
Over the last twelve months SACAP has implemented a study covering the social impact of students who underwent a broad range of fieldwork placements in 2014. SACAP’s Social Impact Report reviews the fieldwork of 61 graduating students who each spent between three and twelve months in the field.
SACAP has a national footprint of over 100 placement sites nationally of which 45 were utilised for this study. Placement sites include a variety of government and non-government organisations across a range of application areas. Of the 45 placement sites covered by this study 19 (42%) were community mental health facilities, 8 (18%) were children’s facilities, 5 (11%) were schools, 5 (11%) were corporates, 4 (8%) were addictions counselling centers and the balance were in higher education (6%), trauma (2%) and loss & bereavement (2%).
The Social Impact Report revealed that over 1 600 individuals were directly impacted by the fieldwork activities of SACAP’s students. Over 26% of those impacted were children under the age of 12. Adolescents represent 17% of the beneficiaries and 57% were adults.
“Of course this measures only the direct beneficiary of a SACAP fieldwork intervention, whereas the actual impact is far wider. Take for example an abused woman seeking refuge with her children in a shelter. The mother may have been the individual to have directly received counselling but the intervention would have positively impacted her entire family”, says Royeppen. “We believe in excellence in education and making a social impact through education by keeping our training relevant to the needs of our communities. By empowering our students to grow in themselves, SACAP is making a significant positive impact on the lives of others.”
The study showed that interventions included screening, counselling, coaching and referral and included both one-on-one as well as group sessions. SACAP’s fieldwork students conducted a total of 2 743 sessions i.e. an average of 45 sessions per student.
Tamsin Acheson, who studied the Advanced Certificate in Counselling and Communication Skills and did her fieldwork as a counsellor at Norman Henshilwood High said: “The SACAP fieldwork experience reinforced, for me, the importance of practical exposure at the end of an intense learning programme. Although I had a cognitive understanding of the South African context, with its social insecurities, economic difficulties, structural inadequacies, political challenges, history of violence and trauma – and its ongoing search for a national identity that accommodates multiple cultures and respects cultural heritages – it was only in fieldwork that I got to fully appreciate the practical impact that all these factors have on the lives of the adolescent clients and their families that I counselled.”
According to Dr. Gordon Isaacs, from SWEAT, SACAP interns demonstrated an extraordinary ability to contextualise their skills within a community mental health setting – working with key populations. “They were seen as staff members from the outset and were assigned particular spaces in order to maximise their learning needs. Some ran groups, some initiated new programmes and others worked systemically within the organization”, said Dr. Isaacs.
In April a total of 109 students graduated from SACAP’s Johannesburg, Cape Town and Online campuses and will enter the South African workplace with practical experience and confidence, knowing that the time they spent in the field not only cemented their own skillsets but also touched the lives of many.