Cross-sector collaboration and co-creation are vital to build digital skills for South Africa’s youth

An Op-Ed written by Kian Chen, Huawei South Africa Deputy CEO.

South Africa has long faced the seemingly paradoxical twin threats of a high youth unemployment rate and a skills shortage.

In order to overcome both, it’s critical to ensure that young people are equipped with the skills they need to successfully use the technologies that will define the world of work in the coming years.  

As President Cyril Ramaphosa pointed out this week, it’s a situation which needs to be urgently addressed. 

“No society can expect to grow or thrive when the vast majority of its young people are out of work,” the President said, adding that, “government’s priority is to achieve higher rates of inclusive growth that generate sustainable jobs at the scale of social need.”

Given the rapid pace at which technology evolves, part of the skills shortage is understandable. Businesses and educational institutions must work together to ensure that learners are equipped to handle the ever-changing nature of work.

The business sector, in particular, should take the lead in this regard, whether through training sessions, providing more flexible skills pathways, or through the recognition of short courses, as well as online and self-learning. 

The days of a university sticking to an established curriculum for years are long gone. Technology innovation is happening so quickly that training must now be adjusted constantly, almost in real-time, as new systems, applications, and devices come to market. 

Technology is meaningless without people operating and deriving value from it. Training is therefore required to use technology – at the supplier level and the user level. 

Precisely what form that training should take is determined as part of the collaborative partnership between business and educational institutions. 

The urgency of such training becomes clear when you consider that according to a World Economic Forum report, 65 percent of today’s primary school children will eventually be working in job types that do not exist yet.

Emerging economies face significant upskilling challenges. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimates that by 2030, more than 230-million jobs in Africa will require digital skills.

Conscious of the need for technology-driven upskilling, our organisation has built strong relationships with training and educational institutions and indeed established some of our own. 

Since 2020 we have upskilled 16 000 South African’s in new technologies such as 5G, Cloud and Artificial Intelligence. 

We have established Huawei ICT Academies at universities and TVET colleges across South Africa, allowing students to learn theoretical knowledge and practical skills closely related to actual ICT working scenarios.

Huawei certification courses are now offered at these institutions, providing students and lecturers with relevant skills, and helping to build a talent ecosystem for the ICT industry. 

This program was acknowledged by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande, recently when he reported on the implementation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) interventions within the Post School Education and Training sector. He emphasised that partnerships with business enabled a demand led skilling model.

“Under the Huawei agreement, lecturers currently at thirty-two (32) TVET colleges are being trained to support the introduction of subjects such as Routing & Switching, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, WLAN, and Security and Cloud Computing,” Nzimande said.

These initiatives are in addition to our Seeds for The Future programme, which develops skilled, local ICT talent and helps to bridge communication between countries and cultures, by exposing young people to ICT expertise and experiences in the global business environment.

We’ve also worked hard to ensure that young graduates have the best possible chance of finding work, we host jobs fairs with our channel partners to absorb graduates of the ICT Academy.  This is in addition to our own intern and graduate programs. 

All together, Huawei has launched and run some 20 programmes aimed at addressing digital youth skills and employment over the past two years. The most recent of these is the Leadership, Employability, Advancement and Possibilities (LEAP) initiative, which aims to advance the ICT skills of more than 100 000 people across the Sub-Saharan Africa region within three years.

As Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, South African Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, said at the LEAP launch: 

“We need innovation, we need to support local innovators, and we need to promote our own platforms throughout the continent to reach scale and develop our economies. We are only bigger when our market is bigger, and we must walk together.”

The classic professions of the future will not necessarily be doctors, lawyers, and accountants. They are just as likely to be data analysts and machine-learning specialists – but only if we have produced enough people with these skills. 

Achieving this will require partnerships between all stakeholders in our economy. Technology skills are not just a critical part of the modern economy. They are critical to its very survival.


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