In 1975, just as political unrest was breaking out on the campus of the University of the Western Cape in Bellville, young cricketer Howard Bergins (photo) got the opportunity of a life-time to travel to England and pursue his dream of becoming a professional cricketer on foreign soil. With South Africa banned from the international sporting arena due to its apartheid policies, Bergins would play overseas for four years, eventually returning to South Africa to play professional cricket as part of the South Africa 11 and later for Boland and Western Province.
Today, Bergins is batting for a different team as the Manager of the Placement Bureau at Bergzicht Training, a non-govermental organisation (NGO) based in the Winelands that helps poor, semi-skilled as well as unemployed persons in the Western Cape to improve their lives by equipping them with practical skills. The NGO offers courses in self-empowerment, Educare, Health and Frail Care, and Professional Cooking as well as workshops in Entrepreneurship, Life Skills and basic computer training. Since 1992, Bergzicht has trained more than 10 000 students of which 76% found permanent employment throught its Placement Bureau.
“I feel honoured to be able to serve the Western Cape community in this way, especially our beneficiaries, many who come from disadvantaged communities, because by providing our beneficiaries with a chance to change their life through skills development courses and finding employment, we are also changing their family’s lives,” says Bergins who has been with Bergzicht for a year now.
“My passion and strength has always been to build bridges and network with people,” adds Bergins as he reflects on his cricketing years, the time he spent working for corporates like African Life Assurance and Old Mutual and his current role at Bergzicht.
Bergins refined these skills over the years by serving as the first appointed Liaison Manager for international cricket teams from the West Indies, Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and India for the United Cricket Board of South Africa and by working in strategic positions for a number of large insurance companies both locally and abroad.
His passion for giving back to others led to him establishing a broker academy at Old Mutual.
“Through this in-house academy, we could teach brokers from different communities what insurance was all about, how to analyse their clients’ needs, how to sell their products and how to follow-up with their clients. This academy made it possible for us to help persons from disadvantaged communities to set up their own offices in these communities.”
Bergins focus at Bergzicht now is to take what he has learnt from the corporate sector and apply it to an NGO setting.
“One of the most important things I learnt in the corporate sector is to always do things in a structured and organised manner and to always plan ahead. I firmly believe that you need to plan your course and decide where you want to end up, but at the same time anticipate what kind of storms you will encounter along the way and think about how you will overcome them to reach your end goal.”
With this in mind, Bergins is on a mission to connect with current employers of Bergzicht trainees as well as prospective ones.
“By keeping track of what our beneficiaries are doing at present, asking for feedback on whether they have been trained well enough to execute their duties on the job and getting feedback on shortcomings in their training, we can improve on the type of trainees we deliver. By gathering this information, we can also adjust our course material to ensure we are meeting the demands in the market and better equip our beneficiaries for the demands outside.
“My aim is get Bergzicht to the point where we are the preferred supplier to the home care, Educare, restaurant, catering and frail care industries. M prime function therefore is to build up bridges to successfully place people in jobs and to build up good relationships with employers to better serve them.”
When Bergins is not devoting his time to Bergzicht, he coaches the junior A cricket squad at Paul Roos and spends time with his wife Eleanor, the Educare course facilitator at Bergzicht, and his children, Robin, a professional soccer player living in Holland, Grant, who works as a sous chef for some of South Africa’s most famous eateries, and Gabriela, who is completing an honours in Sport Science at Stellenbosch University and is a sports presenter for MFM radio.
Asked about why he has chosen to specifically work at Bergzicht with all the skills and experience he has under his belt, Bergins smiles and says: “If I can make a difference by just putting a smile on a beneficiary’s face who has no reason to smile and if I can provide that same beneficiary with an opportunity to find employment, to become the person they always dreamt they could become, that to me is the biggest privilege anyone can have.”
Employers who wish to set up an appointment with Bergins to discuss their needs in terms of staff, can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.