Verusha Maharaj heads up Red & Yellow, a creative business school based in Cape Town. She discusses how the institution is preparing young Africans to enter a world of work dominated by new technology.
“We’re all shaking because the robots are coming to take our jobs,” says Verusha Maharaj, managing director of Red & Yellow Creative School of Business. But, unlike some, Maharaj isn’t fazed by this.
“As the line between the physical and the digital world disappears, it’s clear to me that the one thing that cannot be replaced is creative thinking.”
Thus, Red & Yellow, which describes itself as Africa’s leading creative business school, focuses on developing exactly that in its students.
“Even as many of the hard skills become automated, things like being able to create or to innovate will always be inherently human,” Maharaj adds.
Based in Cape Town, Red & Yellow remains relevant by staying ahead of the curve and planning for future trends, Maharaj explains, as well as entrenching the development of the skills that ChatGPT has yet to master into its curriculum – like problem solving and critical thinking.
Popular courses at the business school include digital marketing and visual communications, as well as trend-led short programs such as “Designing in the Metaverse”. The school offers on-campus education, online tuition and qualifications, and corporate training for businesses.
The demand for creative skills remains high in South Africa. Red & Yellow boasts an 87% graduate employability rate. Students typically go on to become copywriters, UX and UI designers, marketing or brand managers, creative directors, art directors and social media managers, among others.
“Things like being able to create or to innovate will always be inherently human”
“A lot of our alumni have gone on to become giants in the industry and they also stay actively involved,” Maharaj says.
This success is, in part, due to the industry-focused pedagogy of the school. Most of the campus is set up like a studio, with very few formal classrooms.
“I had learnt everything that I knew on the job and I refined my skills and knowledge with formal qualifications,” Maharaj says. “So I understood the real world impact of practical experience and how that translated into the industry.”
Maharaj’s own marketing career began “by chance”, she says. “I was actually convinced that I was going to become a doctor and, well, the universe had other ideas for me,” she adds, explaining that she abandoned her medical degree in the third year to study finance while simultaneously taking up a part-time job at an agency, Creative Council.
She stayed there for the next decade, working her way up to general manager of Africa. After a stint in consultancy, she was offered the role at Red & Yellow.
“I knew it would be very different to the stressful pitch presentations and the drawn out creative reviews and the pressurised client deadlines that I knew so well, but I was instantly intrigued,” she says.
One of the biggest challenges for the school is the rise of competing micro-credentials offered by companies such as Meta and Google. Similarly, finding and employing academics with industry-experience, particularly in newer technologies, has been hard.
But Red & Yellow, which is part of Honoris United Universities, has global ambitions, beginning with exporting its courses to other African countries. In July 2022, it launched digital marketing training in Mauritius, aimed at first-time learners and professionals looking to cement their knowledge. It has since enabled access to its short-courses in Nigeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Maharaj describes the response as “phenomenal”.
Now the school is exploring developing a physical training centre in Ethiopia and has launched its first international exchange program with another institution in Belgium, funded by Erasmus.
“As the world’s youngest continent, strengthening the skills and knowledge of young Africans to enable them to thrive in today’s globally disrupted world of work is critical,” says Maharaj. “We’re working very hard to drive this agenda”.
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