Matshidiso Khalimatshi was one of many South African youth unable to find work in their chosen field after graduation. After weeks of sending one email application after another without response, she realised that she would have to change job-hunting tactics.
“I couldn’t just sit at home, so I returned to university to volunteer the skills I had and to upskill,” she explains.
Despite a life-long passion for tourism, she accepted a marketing internship at the University of Johannesburg. Her updated LinkedIn profile caught the eye of Lauren Clark, Head of People at global IT consultancy Mint Group.
With Lauren’s encouragement, Matshidiso applied to and successfully completed the Modern Marketer Internship that is a recent addition to the Microsoft Internship Programme. She has now joined the company as a Junior Marketing Assistant.
Matshidiso’s story is just one example of digital skills development unlocking individual potential. Imagine this impact multiplied within South African families, across communities, and then into transformed industries. It becomes easy to see how technology can be a fundamental driver of inclusive growth and success in South Africa.
However, that success depends on how the country can contribute to a global environment that is increasingly dynamic and digitalised. Rapid advances in technology have changed where and how work is done, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated those changes.
The 2019 JCSE-IITPSA ICT Skills Survey projects the value of South Africa’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector at R273 billion by 2021, or 8% of GDP. The report notes that skills for conventional ICT such as software development, cloud solutions, and database management are already in critical short supply. Expertise keeping pace with emerging technologies such as robotics, big data, and artificial intelligence, is scarcer still.
The success is not just about the ICT sector. Technology allows innovation across sectors including agriculture, healthcare, education, and in public service, amongst others. The shift from an economy built on mining and manufacturing, to one that is service- and solution-orientated, is a significant one and a skilling challenge has a systematic effect on the ability of companies, industries, and communities to find talent and thrive in a digital economy.
The 2020 Harambee Mapping of Digital and ICT Roles and Demand for South Africa Survey estimates that the local ICT sector will demand around 66,000 digital and ICT jobs in the next year, of which around 66% are entry-level roles suitable for youth. How can educators as well as the public and private sector provide unemployed youth with relevant skills and job pathways to bridge them quickly and efficiently into future workforces?
“We believe that we need to focus on addressing this present challenge, while also thinking about future generations in a way that ensures inclusive economic opportunity. Our approach to digital skills development is a holistic one that increases employability in individuals and builds ICT capability in SMMEs – from offering basic digital literacy in mobile learning labs, to creating reskilling opportunities for the jobs that are in demand today, to developing deep technical skills through tertiary programmes at universities,” says Lillian Barnard, Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa.
Regardless of age - students in schools, youth in and out of college, or already-working IT professionals - the continued effort to upskill and reskill to enhance people’s digital capabilities and the drive for digital transformation must happen in parallel. Microsoft has set up its training ecosystem to address this challenge. Its training programmes are designed not only for students and young professionals, but for older workers specialising in skills that may soon be obsolete. Four of its programmes enable both future and current workers to realise the promise of technology:
- Microsoft is equipping youth with digital skills to make them more employable through the partnerships with Tshepo 1M programme of the Gauteng Provincial Government and Microsoft Youth Skill 4 Employment Programme. Through this partnership the Thint’iMillion learning platform offers free basic digital literacy training at public libraries and is also available for self-enrolment to those wanting to acquire basic skilling to increase their employability. The platform is also set to be rolled out at other youth serving organisations within Gauteng to ensure it reaches the youth through the five corridors of the province. The platform is accessed via a smartphone app and can serve more than 20 000 users simultaneously.
- The Microsoft Cloud Society programme offers training and certification opportunities to people of any age working in the technology sector to help them be cloud-ready and advance their careers. Members of the Cloud Society can choose from a variety of free online learning courses and virtual workshops to train on Microsoft technologies at their own pace, in their own time. With 32 400 registrations and with multiple course completions per registrant to date, Cloud Society has proven to be an effective learning platform. Participating IT professionals credit the Cloud Society for not only helping them gain knowledge to prepare for the future of work, but also helping improve performance within their current roles.
- Microsoft’s Global Skills Initiative rolled out locally to address unemployment and the increasing demand for people with digital skills, particularly following the COVID-19 pandemic. Microsoft partnered with Afrika Tikkun to drive the programme and assist the people who need it most to reskill and pursue an in-demand job using resources from LinkedIn, Microsoft and GitHub.
- The Central University of Technology, Free State introduced Microsoft’s first AI University programme earlier this year to address the demand for Artificial Intelligence skills in South Africa. The programme has been designed to pass on the future-skills employers need by teaching young multi-disciplined graduates with limited or no work experience to explore, transform, model, and visualise data, as well as to create the next generation of intelligent solutions. Planned as a short, blended learning course in AI Engineering, it is open for public enrolment in 2021 and the plan is to roll this out to other universities across South Africa.
“AI is at the heart of digital transformation and to unlock its full potential we need to use the technology to complement human ingenuity. Companies that see the biggest business benefit from AI combine their deployment with skilling initiatives that focus on both tech and soft skills,” says Barnard.
Public-private partnerships can help unlock vital upskilling, reskilling and digital literacy initiatives that help drive the adoption of emerging technology and the capabilities to effectively use it.
“We believe that through a combination of partnerships, trainings, real-world experiences and online classrooms, we can build a knowledge-based economy that leaves no person behind, and enables both future and current workers to realise the promise of technology,” says Barnard.
Striving to increase South Africa’s technical and digital capital is about so much more than job creation. “By investing in programmes like these, and in people like Matshidiso, we believe that South Africans can create new ways to address unemployment, equity, sustainability, and global competitiveness,” concludes Barnard.