NMU security staff member seizes degree opportunity

MAN ON A MISSION: Nelson Mandela University security staff member Ayanda Martin is in his final year of study towards a BA Forensic Science and Technology degree
MAN ON A MISSION: Nelson Mandela University security staff member Ayanda Martin is in his final year of study towards a BA Forensic Science and Technology degree

When Ayanda Martin left his home town of Dimbaza in the Eastern Cape in search of an opportunity in Port Elizabeth, he did not think that just seven years later he would be so close to achieving what once seemed like a mere pipe dream.

Martin, 31, who is a security staff member at Nelson Mandela University (NMU), is in his final year of study towards obtaining a BA Forensic Science and Technology degree.

He is excited at the prospect of being the first in his family to obtain an undergraduate degree — an achievement he thought he would only have managed to tick off his list at least five years from now.

With a penchant for all things related to investigations and criminal justice, it was no coincidence that Martin ended up building a career in the security industry, having worked for a number of private security companies.

He is part of the cohort of about 800 staff members who were insourced by the NMU following the November 2015 resolution by the university council to end the outsourcing of service workers as management believed the practice led to exploitation of labour and unethical practices.

“That was a very good initiative that has changed my life. I didn’t realise then what it would mean for us,” he said.

“Before [the insourcing], we were exploited — and powerless — because we wanted to keep our jobs. Things are a lot better now.

“That’s why when an opportunity to further my studies came along, I grabbed it with both hands.”

Martin is one of many previously outsourced staff members who have taken up the studying and other development opportunities that came with the university council’s decision to insource service workers.

The decision was taken at the height of the first wave of the #FeesMustFall movement protests, in response to one of the demands.

He holds a Higher Certificate in Criminal Justice from Unisa, which he personally financed, after which he began his forensics degree at the same institution, with NMU paying for it as part of the suite of available development opportunities.

“I’m one of those people who like to watch crime series and have a personal interest in ‘white collar’ or occupational crime. My dream is to one day work for some of the big national crime-fighting organisations, such as the Hawks.”

For now, he is enjoying being part of a staff mentoring programme through which he is acquiring on-the-job training as an investigator. This follows a recent skills audit, where his qualifications were found to fit into the university’s dire need for internal investigation capacity.

“I really enjoy my job. I’m very passionate about this kind of work and am interested in researching, discovering and solving things,” he said.

“I can say I’ve started living my professional dream because I’m doing some real investigations and gaining some great practical experience. It’s so exciting and makes coming to work that much nicer.”

Since the decision to end outsourcing, the university has undertaken a reintegration process for all four of its service functions: catering, cleaning, security, and horticulture and sports field maintenance.

The process has been undertaken with two key objectives — social justice considerations and the long-term sustainability of the institution.

The former includes a commitment towards an institutional culture that encourages employee empowerment and mobility, while the latter seeks to achieve the university’s sustainability objectives without increasing existing constraints on the university’s finances.

To date, more than 500 support services staff have actively taken part in various training and development initiatives, such as the three-year matric programme, vocational training and development, special events and safety training, and computer and other technology training.

Following a skills audit earlier in 2019, 81 staff members from across the service functions have enrolled for the matric programme, with a further 93 completing a Frontline Leadership Development Programme.

The university has recently concluded the rollout of mobile devices to all staff who are not office-bound, nor in possession of, or with access, to personal computers. Devices are being distributed with related digital skills training.

All staff will be able to access e-mails, crucial university information, the staff portal and intranet support services. While the development initiatives were initially tailored for insourced service staff, they have been extended to all university staff members. It is all about bridging the digital divide and ensuring inclusion throughout the university.