Michael Roberts. Picture FREDDY MAVUNDA

Michael Roberts. Picture FREDDY MAVUNDA

Obtaining a degree is a great achievement. Putting that cherished piece of paper to work in the world of big corporations is a very different story.

"There is a huge gap between the academic world and the corporate world," says Michael Roberts, founder of Cape Town-based Khonology, a skills upliftment firm. "The gap makes it difficult for a new graduate to get into a big corporate."

Creating the gap is a dearth of practical experience. "We bridge the gap by training people to meet corporate expectations," says Roberts.

Roberts walked off this month with the Job Creator of the Year award at the Entrepreneur of the Year competition sponsored by Sanlam and Business Partners, testament to his success just three years into the life of Khonology.

"Michael is clearly onto something unique here," commented the competition’s judges in a citation.

It is certainly unique. Khonology goes to universities to source talent. Being an "A" student does not guarantee selection. "They must have the right attitude and mindset," he says. "They could be ‘B’ or even ‘C’-class students who have had to battle against the odds to get their degree. They have shown they have tenacity."

The practical training Khonology provides is not rocket science. The first step is to home in on financial literacy in what Roberts terms an economics 101 approach.

"They must understand, for example, what impact a rise in interest rates or the price of petrol will have on their financial position," says Roberts. As a learning aid Khonology has developed Khoncity, a financial literacy board game.

"If they know how to look after their own finances they will know how to look after a company’s," says Roberts.

Khonology’s objective is to equip graduates to work in the technology-driven side of the financial services industry. "They learn entry level tech skills to equip them to work in areas such as basic analytics, new systems testing and automation," says Roberts.

In three years 120 graduates have gone through Khonology’s upskilling programme. All but 20 are employed by the firm. "We carry the employment risk," says Roberts.

Khonology employees are placed on a consulting basis with companies in the financial services sector. But they are not left to sink or swim. "We support them on site," says Roberts. "We want them to succeed."

Roberts’ own background equips him well for his role. Having graduated at the University of the Witwatersrand with a BSc in mining engineering he moved to the UK where he obtained a master’s degree in finance at the London Metropolitan University.

He went on to spend another 10 years in London working for Barclays, JPMorgan Chase and Deutsche Bank. He returned to SA where he found himself sourcing skilled staff offshore for local companies.

"It did not make sense that companies do this when they should be using local people," says Roberts. "I don’t buy the story that there’s no skills in SA."

But Roberts believes a lot needs to be done to equip young people for the modern business world. "Financial literacy, technology and economics should be compulsory subjects in high schools," he says.