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Colleen Francis

Current Job: 
Speech Therapist at the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) - employed to work at Tembaletu School for learners with physical disabilities in Gugulethu
Faculty: 
Your ability to develop your CV, interview, work with people, communicate with peers and supervisors and to integrate in the workplace is just as important as concrete job skills.

Previous job(s): 

  • District-Based Community Service Speech Therapist (Frances Baard Health District, Northern Cape)
  • Speech Therapist for a private practice in Cape Town focusing on Alternative and Augmentative Communication and eye gaze technology to access communication.

How I obtained my current position:

A fellow colleague told me that there was a 'job with my name on it' so I responded to the online ad for a contract post and a year later applied through WCED for a permanent position.

How my qualification relates to my work:

Very directly, a degree in Speech Language Pathology is very specific with the goal of working as a speech therapist in a variety of settings.

Skills that have contributed to my success:

Being able to understand the context and adapt to the context I am working in. Considering the bigger picture including community aspects, roles of fellow team members, the personal element of those we are working with, health as a psychosocial reality rather than just medical. Being able to adapt to other languages and cultural beliefs.

Day-to-day activities:

Group and individual therapy with children focusing on speech, language, communication, literacy or feeding; group therapy and/or discussions with multidisciplinary team members.; resource development for use in therapy, for educators to use in class or for learners to use at home; feedback and case discussions with educators; staff and student training, IT support including general maintenance, troubleshooting, communicating with service providers, updating the website, etc.; member of various logistical committees in the school, including sport, special projects and finance.

Then there is also writing funding proposals, donor liaison, and ensuring sustainability of funding projects and running a specialized forum for colleagues and others in my district to provide in-service training and develop proposals for government funding.

Best & most challenging parts of my job:

Best is easy: the people I work with, the learners I serve, the opportunity to learn something new every day and the opportunity to be creative and come up with new programs and projects that really mean something. Seeing so much positive change is truly inspirational.

Worst: working with people who have different personal or professional agendas and perspectives. While I like to make the most of cultural and language barriers, it can be very challenging working in a place so linguistically and culturally different from my own background. And lastly, fighting mind-sets...we have a long way to go in terms of how people perceive disability, funding, race, language and even age and gender so 'fighting the good fight' every day to inspire others to let go of the barriers that keep people from progress is very difficult. Working with few financial or human resources or poor use of resources is hard, too. Crime is like a heavy bag we carry around every day at work, having to constantly lock doors, hide valuables, and consider crime before allowing children access to technology. Living with the fear of resources being taken away at any minute can be draining.

Involvement at UCT:

Habitat for Humanity; SHAWCO; Health and Rehabilitation Services.

Getting a competitive edge while at UCT: 

Take the time to do activities like SHAWCO and work with students from other disciplines; make the most of any and all electives and clinical opportunities provided by the university. Participate in campus life, make use of extra-murals, make the most of resources like the UCT Library, Writing Centre, Careers Service, etc. and take some time out to have fun with fellow students. The connections we make also influence our career opportunities and keep us grounded and balanced in the 'work/play' balance of our lives.

About approaching your own career development journeys:

Your ability to develop your CV, interview, work with people, communicate with peers and supervisors and to integrate in the workplace is just as important as concrete job skills.

Advice for graduates entering the world of work: 

Be patient, be realistic, and be truthful about what you can do, what you are willing to do, and what you really want to do. Remember that every person you encounter professionally is also a person with their own background, beliefs and plans for their lives. A career is a journey; you never ever know it all from the beginning, working your way to the top is a rite of passage, an important step in the journey.