For many of the 16 candidates who've been chosen to be part of the recently launched Tourvest Guide Academy, it was a similar story.
Most had previously studied elsewhere with some candidates saying they had studied logistics management or accounting or Human Resources but were unable to find work before this opportunity came along.
"To find me here is a present. I never went to school. This will be a second graduation. I graduated in 2017 for cooking. I find myself where I need to be," trainee ranger Andrew Ngwenya said. Decon Sibuyi had similar sentiments.
"I have been in a lot of industries including been a taxi driver. I came across this and I applied. Whatever they are doing was where I wanted to be," he said.
Ngwenya and Sibuyi are among the nine women and seven men to begin their studies at the Tourvest Field Guide Academy which opened its doors in September 2019. The training takes place at Makalali Private Game Reserve in Limpopo. Besides tented accommodation and meals, the trainee rangers are given fully sponsored tuition, covered by the Tourvest Group.
Those who complete the training get NQF Level 2 Accreditation. After completing their six-month practical training, they will be guaranteed two years of employment at various reserves around the country.
It's a gruelling task though. Candidates are up at 04:00 to take part in a 4-hour hike before having breakfast. Then its lecture time before undertaking another walk at 15:30. It's also not just about learning about the environment. Those taking part in the programme are currently learning German, to assist when foreign tourists visit the country.
Sihle Mathable studying in his tent (Vanessa Banton, News24)
Before taking part in the programme, Sihle Mathabela used to eat the endangered species pangolin but says he now knows better. He had previously been taking on part-time jobs to make ends meet. He applied after hearing about the programme while building a new lodge in the Limpopo area.
Those chosen to take part in the programme undergo a very rigorous selection process.
"We really want people who want to be here, who want to learn," aha marketing manager, Ruzandri Stoltz said.
The idea of setting up the academy came about after Gary Elmes, Tourvest Accommodation and Activities CEO saw that there was a marked shortage of trained and properly accredited guides.
“Wherever I go among the Tourvest and aha Hotels & Lodges properties throughout the country, there’s one common denominator – the human potential that surrounds us, everywhere we go. But opportunities are scarce and so many young people in these areas don’t have the financial means to study. The tourism industry is always in need of great new talent and we can now address both needs while providing a springboard for these communities to flourish in the long-term.”
So far R3 million has been invested into the Academy. The aim is to sign up 16 new students every six months for at least the next three years. There are also considerations to add Italian and Mandarin to the curriculum going forward.