True torchbearer for development and progress

14 June 2023 | Story Lisel Krige. Photo Supplied. Read time 5 min.
UCT employee Frederick Stellenboom’s career journey exceeded his expectations.
UCT employee Frederick Stellenboom’s career journey exceeded his expectations.

When he first found himself on the campus of the University of Cape Town (UCT) as the employee of a contracted cleaning company, Frederick Stellenboom had no idea that he would encounter opportunities beyond his expectations. They would hold for him the promise of a much brighter future – thanks to the Human Resources department’s Staff Learning Centre.

From dropping out of school because he didn’t have any dreams or plans for the future and starting work as a cleaner at UCT, 39-year-old Frederick Stellenboom is carving out a career for himself as an employee in the university’s Biological Sciences department – and he is dreaming big.

Having completed four modules that are a part of UCT’s Staff Learning and Development Laboratory Workshop Series in 2021, Stellenboom’s is a story of grabbing opportunities as they arise, and of sheer determination to make a success of them at all costs. He is still forging on to acquire even more qualifications that will further empower him.

Born in Cape Town, he grew up and attended school in Elsies River. The middle child out of three brothers, Stellenboom said he was raised by his mother and grandmother.

“I am now happily married and we have three kids of our own.”

His wife, Tammy-Lee, is a constant source of inspiration and motivation. “She has always encouraged me and still does today,” he said. “She also believes in me more than I do and with her by my side; it is as though anything is possible.”

From outsourced general cleaner to employee and student

His first encounter with UCT was in 2010, when he started working on the campus as a general cleaner with SuperCare, an outsourced cleaning provider.

In 2016, the company’s staff cohort was insourced and he officially became a UCT employee.

“For me, just the name ‘UCT Cleaning Staff’ already meant a lot,” said Stellenboom.

He asked many questions about his new status as a university employee and for him it was “a bonus” to find out that he now had access to staff benefits.

It was Samuel Chetty, a systems administrator in the Department of Computer Science at UCT who first suggested that Stellenboom investigate the training and development opportunities available to him.

“He believed that I was worthy of much more than just being a general cleaner. Speaking hope – real hope – into someone’s life, is powerful.”

Finding a niche in the lab

His job as a campus cleaner introduced him to the world of UCT’s various laboratories. Intrigued by the work being done, he felt prompted to ask questions about what laboratory assistants do.

Wanting to become better acquainted with the environment, he started job-shadowing “early in the mornings before my shift started, or during tea and lunch breaks”. Stellenboom said the staff were helpful during this learning curve.

He subsequently became aware of the Laboratory Skills Workshop Series and decided to enrol. “I wanted to prepare to position myself in the event of a post becoming vacant or available.”

Perseverance against many odds

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, he had to register online. The course was then postponed and he had to re-register.

Stellenboom looked up the course coordinator for the laboratory workshop, Dr Dawood Hattas, and established the dates on which he was due to attend. “It was a hectic time, but I got through it all.”

He now holds certificates for the following completed courses:

  • Laboratory Health and Safety (Module 1)
  • Laboratory Equipment Operation and Maintenance (Module 3)
  • Preparing Chemical Solutions (Module 4)
  • Sterile Laboratory Techniques and Preparation of Culture Media for Bacterial Growth (Module 5)

The university’s Scientific and Technical Officers Association (STOA), the team who put together and present the Laboratory Skills Programme, last year stole the limelight by winning the Vice-Chancellor’s Service Excellence Award.

After completing the laboratory course, he became aware of several posts that had become available and decided to apply. “By the grace and mercy of God I was successful,” he said.

What Stellenboom enjoys most about working in the Biological Sciences Department is the opportunity to participate in field work.

Valuable mentorship

He said Chetty was and still is, his mentor. “I am grateful to have him as a friend and a fatherly figure in my life.”

He also acknowledged Karin Smit, manager of the Staff Learning Centre, Organisational Development and Effectiveness at UCT Human Resources. According to Stellenboom she has taken the time to sit with him and explain the various avenues he can follow to improve his development.

“I am determined to do a course in Business Administration next year! I sincerely appreciate Karin’s input as well,” he said.

Smit, in turn, said since joining UCT in 2016, Stellenboom has shown a keen interest in the learning and development opportunities available to staff.

“In the early stages of his development journey Frederick completed several of our short courses, from our Computer Literacy course to some of our more advanced self-directed eLearning courses. He also completed the Certificate in Management, a ServiceSETA accredited NQF Level 4 programme on offer via the Staff Learning Centre, which is a huge accomplishment and something he can be very proud of.”

Smit added that Frederick is passionate not only about his own development, but also that of others, his Properties & Services colleagues in particular.

“He is a true inspiration,” she noted.

Life’s second chances

Being living proof of the role that development can play in your life, Stellenboom is passionate about it.

“I believe there are second chances in life and if you get them, they should not be wasted. Also, I have come to know a very ambitious side of myself, which is a good thing.”

Stellenboom’s message to his colleagues is that nothing is impossible to achieve if you put your heart in it.

Development opportunities are regularly available to staff and are advertised in the university’s Staff Learning & Development Resource Guide publication.

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