Collaboration boosts govt’s skilled talent push

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 16 Oct 2019

Private sector players have come to the party to advance critical skills among South African youth, reveals the communications and digital technologies ministry.

While some nations across the globe, even in parts of Africa, topped innovation and digital literacy lists, SA has often drawn criticism for its profound lack of digital skills and talent.

In an effort to address these gaps, government has of late made concerted efforts to increase skills development and equip citizens with the necessary skills to thrive in a digital society.

However, realising the state can’t go it alone, the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies (DCDT), which is charged with SA’s ICT agenda and government's fourth industrial revolution programme, turned to private sector stakeholders for help.

The DCDT has lauded the private sector’s participation, but also believes there is room for further contribution. “To maximise impact, avoid duplication and ensure a holistic approach, the department is working on coordinating the interventions by different companies.”

Coming to the party

According to the DCDT, companies such as Cisco, Microsoft, Google, NEMISA, Digital Opportunities Trust and IBM are assisting in training, skilling and reskilling citizens, especially the youth, in digital astuteness.

Mobile operators MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and Liquid Telecom are providing connectivity at selected public mainstream and special needs schools as part of their universal service and access obligations, indicates the department.

To date, the operators have installed 4 680 cyber labs at the schools, it reveals.

Huawei, according to the ministry, is contributing to capacity building, ICT talent training and joint innovation on ICT.

The Chinese telecoms giant has a cooperation contract with the department. “Since incorporation in 2016, 30 students have been attached to the Seeds for the Future programme, Huawei’s international training programme offered to students across the globe.

“The programme exposes students to ICT research at Huawei’s labs in China. In addition, over 1 000 SOCs [state-owned companies] and government officials have been trained through the MICT SETA [Media, Information and Communication Technologies Sector Education and Training Authority] on various digital skills.”

The department notes Telkom is a sponsor of the WeThinkCode project, which is an institution that aims to eliminate the ICT skills shortage by tackling youth unemployment within the space of software engineering and coding.

“Telkom has committed R20 million to the programme for the next three years.”

The DCDT also lists China Telecom, US and UK governments as partners helping to drive the country’s digital agenda.

Collaboration value chain

In the past, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, minister in the DCDT, stated that training the future workforce requires collaboration with various players.

Furthermore, her department highlights that president Cyril Ramaphosa has emphasised the importance of establishing and implementing effective public-private partnerships to boost the country’s economy.

It states: “The department has since adopted the mantra – coordinate, collaborate and execute 4IR, which simply means that to ensure we effectively execute South Africa’s response to the fourth industrial revolution, coordination of initiatives as well as collaborating with the various multi-sector stakeholders is an imperative.

“In terms of digital skills, the department has set a bold vision which is to train one million young people on data science and related skills by 2030. Achieving this goal therefore requires partnerships with various stakeholders, including the private sector.”

Moving forward, the DCDT says it continuously seeks to partner with stakeholders that are aligned to the department’s vision and interventions. 

“We recently concluded an MOU [memorandum of understanding] with Cisco and are working on concluding others with various multinationals, local stakeholders such as the SETAs and online learning platforms such as Coursera. We are therefore distinctly encouraged by the positive feedback received from stakeholders.”

Govt gets on board

Earlier this year, Ramaphosa took to the World Economic Forum stage to proclaim the South African government will embark on a massive drive to train young people in digital skills and give them necessary learning tools.

He further used the fifth administration’s last State of the Nation Address to reveal that over the next six years, the administration will provide every school child in SA with digital workbooks and textbooks on a tablet device.

The decision, said Ramaphosa, is motivated by the history of the country’s education, which demands improvement, to develop the skills that will be needed now and into the future.

The DCDT is committed to seeing a million young people equipped with data science and related skills by 2030.

As the demand for data scientists within the business and research fields grows exponentially, SA is under immense pressure to address this skills gap. Globally, the shortfall for data scientists is projected to be between five million and 10 million.

In May, the ministry said it partnered with the MICT SETA to train the first thousand young people in data science, cloud computing, 3D printing, cyber security, digital content creation, drone piloting and software development. 

On the other hand, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) is preparing a coding and robotics curriculum for grade R-3 and grade 7, expected to go live in January 2020.

It is the view of the DBE that the coding and robotics curriculum will develop learners’ ability to “solve problems; think critically; and work collaboratively and creatively; function in a digital and information-driven world; apply digital and ICT skills; and transfer these skills to solve everyday problems”.

At provincial level, the Gauteng Department Education is championing the paperless classroom initiative, which sees classrooms connected to high-speed broadband and equipped with interactive smart boards. Teachers receive laptops and tablets for learners.

While these efforts are commendable, only time will tell their effectiveness in the drive to provide people with skills that will ensure they participate meaningfully in the fourth industrial revolution.