Disability Internships and Production Technology Learnership at Saab Grintek Defence

Last year, Swedish security and defence local company Saab Grintek Defence (SGD) placed nine matriculants who have disabilities in an internship programme to learn administrative skills. On the back of 2013’s successful learnership, the company opted to extend the programme by a year and introduced a second programme that focuses on production technology.

Sonika Nieuwoudt, Senior HR Business Partner at SGD, runs the programme. She works closely with an initiative called Progression that offers disability equity solutions to large corporations.

“It is so wonderful to see how the interns blossom,” says Sonika, “They are like little flowers that just grow.” Sonika ensures that every learner is assigned a mentor in the company to help them achieve just this. Some of the students do not have naturally recognisable disabilities and in these cases, unless absolutely necessary, the company does not disclose the learner’s disability to their mentor. The idea is to foster a culture of acceptance and upliftment.

When SGD introduced the disability programme its ultimate objective was to give young learners fresh out of matric an opportunity to become part of the workspace.  To achieve this, Progression designed a programme that is built on theoretical preparation and practical exposure to administrative work or production technology at SGD.

As part of the theoretical component, SGD runs monthly workshops for its interns. This provides them with valuable know-how in various business and life skills such as business etiquette, budget management, computer and numeric competency, as well as general communication and life skills.  From a practical perspective, learners are expected to build a portfolio of evidence based on the work they are exposed to across the various departments of the company.

“Each and every learner is mentored and guided to achieve the specific set of skills they require to advance their natural abilities and to prepare for the work space,” says Sonika. Ensuring the progressive growth of the learner is of paramount importance and this is measured twice a year when the learner and mentor meet, together with a Progression representative to evaluate the learner’s growth.

During this process, the natural strengths of students are identified and assessed and where necessary adaptations are made to best assist each young person.  For example, of the group of students who completed the administrative programme last year, three presented a strong aptitude for production technology. On identifying this, Sonika gave them the option to move across to year one of the production technology programme when it launched at the beginning of the year, or to continue with year two of the administrative programme. Although SGD guides the process, the final decision lies with the student who is being empowered. 

“On completion of the administrative or technical production internships, learners will have developed a set of skills, knowledge and understanding within a specific environment. They will also have gained valuable practical experience and the opportunity to add a Seta registered learnership to their CV,” says Sonika. She goes on to explain that learners who perform well can be offered permanent positions if suitable positions become available  – or the option to apply for a Saab bursary to study further.

“We are delighted with the progress that learners have shown on the programme so far. Our aim is to empower youth in South Africa and we are privileged to be in the position to do this,” says Sonika.