Cash-strapped Cell C channels funds to data scientists

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 05 Dec 2019
Demand for data science and analytics skills is growing among South African corporates.
Demand for data science and analytics skills is growing among South African corporates.

Financially-constrained Cell C has invested R5 million in a partnership with Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA), in an initiative that seeks to provide data science skills to SA’s youth.

With demand for data science and analytics skills growing among South African corporates, the partnership will provide 24 disadvantaged young men and women from all over the country with funding and a 12-month ICT skills development course.

Despite experiencing major financial difficulties, reportedly struggling with almost R8.24 billion of debt and deepening losses, the mobile operator says skills development is at the core of its priorities and it will consider expanding the one-year sponsorship deal to three years.

EDSA, which bills itself as the first data science-focused institution in SA, will also upskill some of Cell C’s employees, offering a series of focused coursesthat will teach data science, data engineering, data analytics and machine learning.

Speaking at the partnership launch today in Johannesburg, Juliet Mhango, chief human capital development and transformation officer at Cell C, said the partnership is part of the telco’s strategy to align its business objectives with the demands of the fourth industrial revolution.

“The Cell C data scientists programme, run in partnership with Explore Data Science Academy, is aligned to president Cyril Ramaphosa’s objectives on the fourth industrial revolution.

“Cell C has a responsibility to develop and transform the youth of South Africa by providing training and opportunities that ready them for a digital future. We are committed to creating relevant skills development opportunities that will allow the youth of SA to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.”

Speaking to ITWeb about Cell C’s financial woes and where the cash injection would come from if the partnership is extended, Mhango noted: “Cell C is a business and we have always invested in our human resources because skills development is really a business investment.

Juliet Mhango, chief human capital development and transformation officer at Cell C.
Juliet Mhango, chief human capital development and transformation officer at Cell C.

“This is about channelling funds in the right direction, because these are people who can be utilised within the business. Next year, we are hoping to get new shareholders on board, so our focus is to build a sustainable business through recapitalisation, and in turn, execute our broader objectives.”

EDSA, which has campuses in Johannesburg and Cape Town, is the brainchild of founders Shaun Dippnall, Dave Strugnell and Aidan Helmbold, all highly-qualified data scientists with actuarial qualifications as well as experience in lecturing, research and consulting.

The year-long programme will enable students to qualify as ICT innovators and gain potential employment as data scientists, engineers and/or software developers at Cell C and its partner organisations.

According to job sites Indeed and Dice, the demand for data science skills is growing exponentially. A January Indeed report reflected a 29% increase in data scientist job postings year-on-year and a 344% increase since 2013.

Explore Data Science Academy co-founder Shaun Dippnall.
Explore Data Science Academy co-founder Shaun Dippnall.

"Explore Data Science Academy is delighted to be adding Cell C to its growing list of corporate sponsors. With Explore's post-graduation employment record of 93%, we believe Cell C is helping to make a meaningful difference to inclusive youth employment and adding valuable talent to its organisation,” said Mark Schroeder, chief commercial officer of Explore Data Science Academy, also speaking at the launch.

Schroeder pointed out government spends roughly R60 billion annually on tertiary education, with an average of R1.6 million per student on a degree. Yet studies show that a large number of those students either remain unemployed, or don’t get employment in their field of study.

“Explore’s courses cost a fraction of the university degree price, completed at a fraction of the time and job placement is guaranteed. Globally and in SA, there is a growing demand for digital skills with an ability to solve real-world problems. This partnership enables that demand to be met in an efficient and innovative model with benefits for the learners, Cell C and ultimately our country. These partnerships enable young South Africans to do amazing things," he added.