Leapfrogging into digital can give youth work

COMMENT

StatsSA recently released their latest unemployment figures and the news was bleak, particularly for the youth of our country. The statistics showed that the unemployment rate for 25 to 34 year olds was 34.2%, whereas a sobering 55.2% of 15 to 24 year olds did not have jobs.

At the same time, however, South African companies — particularly those in the ICT industry — report a lack of skills in their sectors.
With an estimated 15- to 20-million young people expected to enter Africa’s workforce every year until 2045, there is an urgent need to develop skills that can sustain African workforces in both the immediate and distant future.
As digital transformation changes the face of business across the continent, it is clear that high-level digital skills will drive economic growth.

Liquid Telecom’s recent African Digital Skills Report 2019 examined the continent’s digital transformation progress, how far we still have to go, and what we need to get there quicker. We found that great strides have been made, but renewed focus and thinking is needed to accelerate our advancement to the finish line.

It is clear that digital skills training needs to be prioritised throughout a young person’s life — beginning in primary school, continuing into secondary and tertiary education and then over the course of their career.

Basic digital literacy is still a major challenge in South Africa. Poverty, inadequate resources in education systems, meagre access to digital technologies and connectivity are all cited as factors contributing to this challenge. This has a severe effect on the kind of education young South Africans are being exposed to, and whether it is equipping them for success in the future.

Earlier this year, in his State of the Nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that all school learners would be equipped with tablets over the next six years, e-learning would be introduced in schools and renewed efforts would be put into spurring digital skills development across the country.

South Africa has made significant progress on the digital development front, despite its current challenges and resource constraints. The Dell Technologies Digital Transformation Index II ranks our country among the top 10 countries leading the digital transformation change required to compete in 21st century economies. This research mapped out the status of digital transformation in businesses and how they are performing in the digital age, by analysing their IT policies and workforce transformation programmes.

As Africa’s leading industrialised nation, South Africa has been preparing for the fourth industrial revolution for several years across various pockets of the private and public sectors. This is largely because more South African companies are partnering with government and non-profit initiatives to scale up digital skills training.

One example of this is Liquid Telecom’s own Innovation Partnerships initiative, which was started in 2017 in order to find new ways to support the growth of digital technology innovation across Africa.

The initiative began with the company partnering with major tech hubs across its fibre footprint and connecting them with free, high-speed broadband. Through our partnerships we can now reach almost 200 innovation hubs, connecting over 250 000 individuals and over 10 000 start-ups across the continent.

Online learning is also playing a significant role in developing digital skills across the region. For example, our 21CSkills platform helps the continent’s students, developers and start-ups gain the tech skills they’ll need in the 21st century. It offers a range of online accredited courses in key emerging technologies, such as data science, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT), cloud and game development. Since the platform launched a few months ago, over 500 students from more than seven countries have enrolled on the course.

As a promising offshoot of initiatives such as these, there are now also growing communities of tech enthusiasts online that share information. By learning from one another, these online communities are giving additional support and motivation for their members to complete their online studies. Furthermore, it demonstrates some of the new ways the continent is learning and absorbing digital skills.

Overall, the African Digital Skills Report 2019 found Africa to be in a critical transitional period, during which it must not only ensure there is a pipeline of skilled workers entering the workforce, but it must also establish itself as a home of leading tech talent. South Africa, in particular, is now in a great position to build on its reputation as a region that leapfrogs technology and embraces innovation. If we continue to encourage closer dialogue between education and industry, and businesses accelerate their efforts to upskill employees and the youth, then our country can only succeed, and more of our young people can find purpose, be productive, provide for their families, and make a contribution to the South African economy.

Rebecca Mosehle is the chief human resources officer at Liquid Telecom

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