A boy plays in the dust of the informal settlement of Reiger Park just outside of Johannesburg. He looks up as an aeroplane flies low overhead, just having taken off from O.R. Tambo International Airport. The child shields his eyes from the sun as he watches the magnificent aircraft move through the air, as if by magic, feeling the deep vibration of the engines in his chest. “Will I ever get to fly on a plane like that?” he wonders.
The answer to that question is yes, thanks to Comair. Dy Moonsammy, Executive Manager: Corporate Affairs – Academy meets me in her office in Kempton Park. “In 2005 we were approached by the by Ms Carol Ova of Carpe Dieme Kaleidoscope (CDK) about getting involved in uplifting the youth in Reiger Park and surrounding areas of Ekhuruleni,” she explains. “This is a community where social ills such as unemployment, drugs and HIV wreak havoc with people’s lives. As Comair, we wanted to do something to make a real difference.”
Together with CDK, Comair established a programme for unemployed young people to teach them the basics of the aviation industry. “The six-month programme was intense. The youngsters were not only taught about the critical elements for our industry – like safety and customer service – they were also required to do a real job. That was the best way to give them authentic exposure and experience.”
Dy was also adamant that the hands-on experience could open a career-path for the students. “We were recruiting for potential employees, because we wanted to absorb them into our organisation.”
This proved critical – the absorption rate for the learnership is still at 96%, 14 years later, unheard of for unemployed learnerships in South Africa. “Of the more than 350 learners trained to date, many of them are still employed with Comair and have gone on to bigger and better things. These learners are now supervisors, cabin crew members, and members of management,” Dy says.
Senior management’s support was crucial to the success of the programme, she adds. “Our CEO, Erik Venter, has been hugely supportive of the programme since inception and would personally attend the graduations.” She chuckles as she recalls a conversation that she overheard him have with one of the graduates. Asked where the graduate saw himself in the future, he grinned, pointed at Erik and said, “I want your job!”
“The learners have blown me away with their ability to work hard and their commitment to win. It shows what you can achieve when someone provides you with the potential to shine.”
The next exciting step in this journey is the collaboration with the Department of Education and the Rhodesfield Technical High School where Comair is partnering with the Department of Education to transform Rhodesfield Technical High school, identified as a school of Specialisation into a world class Engineering school with a focus on Aviation – the first of its kind on the continent. With support from Silicon Valley and various partners this is hugely exciting for the industry.
When I ask how this experience has changed her, Dy becomes thoughtful. “One of the learners asked me to visit his house to see the impact that the programme has had,” she remembers. “He was supporting five people. This programme has not only changed his life, but the lives of his family. That is what has truly made the difference.”