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Digital skills pipeline is answer to youth unemployment

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 18 Jul 2022

As the world marked World Youth Skills Day on Friday, South African tech firms called upon government and the private sector to invest more in digital skills development initiatives, to help combat the youth unemployment crisis.

The youth unemployment rate in SA hit a staggering 34.5 % in Q1 2022, according to Stats SA.

Nurturing new growth and job creation opportunities, with a particular focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills, will play a crucial role in creating employment opportunities for the millions of unemployed South Africans, say local organisations.

In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly declared 15 July as World Youth Skills Day, to shine the light on the strategic importance of equipping young people with decent work and entrepreneurship.

Since then, World Youth Skills Day has provided a unique opportunity for dialogue between young people, education institutions, firms, policy-makers and development partners.

Cyber security firm Digital Resilience and KPMG Digital Consulting believe that while several complex factors contribute to high unemployment rates – which no single solution can address – cloud computing, software and cyber security skills, in particular, can help narrow the digital skills gap, and unlock endless opportunities for youth.

“The traditional view of skilled employment opportunities is shifting from one that required tertiary qualifications and years of experience, to one which seeks certifications, experience and knowledge of newer, digital technologies,” says Sharmlin Moodley, partner at KPMG Digital Consulting.

“With technology vendors now offering entry-level e-learning and certifications for free, it is a prime opportunity for corporate and government to invest in training youth quickly and cost-effectively to combat both unemployment and the skills gap.”

Jeopardising 4IR

According to Moodley, the lack of cyber security, advanced data analytics and data management skills continues to be a big threat to the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), amid huge demand from large corporates looking to generate trustworthy and secure decision-making insights to engage with customers, and protect their organisations from cyber threats.

“The digital transformation revolution is largely being powered by cloud computing, and many organisations are shifting technology requirements from physical data centres to digital cloud services which are consumed ‘as-a-service’.

“Cyber security remains a top priority for many organisations, with increased risk being attracted through various digital channels and applications. These skills are still a scarce and premium find in South Africa and developing a pipeline of skills related to these technology platforms, solutions and services would help reduce the reliance of local organisations on offshore resources,” he asserts.

According to a research report by the Jobs Now Africa Coalition, the continent needs to create at least 15 million new jobs by 2025 to combat the unemployment crisis. It highlights the importance of channelling funds towards skills development in the tech and digital industries, as a means to meeting this target.

Brandon Meszaros, CEO of Digital Resilience, believes SA’s technology potential is so great that it is considered the continent’s Silicon Valley. But the country’s digital economy potential is threatened by the tech skills dearth.

“There is an approximate shortage of four million skilled workers to fill cyber security jobs globally. If we consider that South Africa has the third-highest number of cyber-crime victims worldwide, at a cost of R2.2 billion a year, then there is no doubt that upskilling citizens to fulfil these jobs will not only help our employment rate but certainly have a positive impact on our cyber-crime fighting capacity,” notes Meszaros.

He is of the view that programmes such as the World Economic Forum’s Reskilling Revolution are the type of initiatives required to revolutionise the way organisations approach skills upliftment, development, and enhancement.

“We are seeing great work being done in the private sector where partnerships are being sought to address this – as we all realise the dire impact on our business and the economy if we don’t get this right. Close collaboration between sectors and a common agenda to close the digital and cyber skills gap is needed,” he adds.

“We need to find new, innovative ways to address this, and start by addressing the critical areas first –  technology, healthcare, infrastructure, and those skills that are crucial to rapid economic development and strong GDP growth.”