According to a recent study by Fundi Connect, South Africa’s largest online student support platform, more than 50% of first year students across South African universities drop out due to a number of reasons. One of the reasons sighted is the lack of a structured career guidance programme in learners’ final years of high school.

Choosing a career is difficult as it is, but choosing a career with no exposure to the wide variety of careers available can result in failure or a negative attitude towards school, and the knock-on effect of a learner dropping out of school unnecessarily.

The Bridging for Life programme, supported by TATA International Africa, aims to lay the foundations for the youth to be pro-active in relation to their career paths and commit to their higher education and training ambitions after high school to become within a few years, productive citizens contributing towards the South African economy.

“TATA International aims to contribute to the economic development and social advancement of the communities we work in through education and by promoting social and economic development of local communities as part of our philosophy of giving back to society many times over,” says Len Brand, CEO of TATA International Africa.

Through this programme, students are equipped with essential soft skills to enable them to articulate their personal and career goals through academic resilience, understanding how to commit to a healthy and balanced lifestyle and manage their activities efficiently by making informed post-school decisions.

“The programme has taught me to take responsibility for my own behaviour and well-being. The process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues, being flexible to critically think as a problem-solver. It made my transition from high school to varsity to be easy, because I could communicate effectively and be stress-free as I could manage my emotions and express myself freely,” says Mbali Magole, a Bridging for Life Alumni who completed her Bachelor in Physics and Chemistry at the University of Free State and wishes now to register for an Honours degree in Physics.

Endorsed by the National Department of Higher Education and Training, the Bridging for Life programme was initiated in 2010 under the Valued Citizens Initiative (VCI) with the aim to provide structured career guidance, and equip learners with self-management skills anchoring personal values, leadership skills including problem solving and decision-making skills, and budgeting skills.

“Those soft skills so far have enabled our youth to transition with ease and confidence to life after high school as the Bridging for Life Programme has proven to be effective, resulting in 70% of youth passing Matric within one year transitioning to further education. This has been witnessed in rural areas such as Qwa Qwa in Free State, Ilembe in KwaZulu-Natal, Bochum in Limpopo and we take pride in the value we add in increasing youth employability with our partners like TATA International Africa” says Carole Podetti Ngono, Founder of Valued Citizens Initiative.

“I am currently a third-year student at University of the Free-State at the QwaQwa campus. I am studying towards a Bachelor degree in Education, majoring in Biology and English,” says Thulisile Myeni. “I am also a part time employee of the Valued Citizens Initiative as a Training Officer and with this opportunity I have gained valuable skills including, problem-solving, emotional intelligence personal and career development planning, and more importantly, I have learned how to become a Valued Citizen to our country.” adds Myeni.