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Microsoft SA, YES to equip 300 000 youth with AI skills

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga
Johannesburg, 31 Oct 2023
Kalane Rampai, MD of Microsoft SA; Ravi Naidoo, CEO of YES; and Lillian Barnard, president of Microsoft Africa.
Kalane Rampai, MD of Microsoft SA; Ravi Naidoo, CEO of YES; and Lillian Barnard, president of Microsoft Africa.

Microsoft South Africa and Youth Employment Service (YES) have signed a new partnership agreement that seeks to provide artificial intelligence (AI) skills to 300 000 South African youth.

The new AI initiative is part of Microsoft’s broader efforts to address unemployment and the digital skills gap in SA and other African nations.

The announcement was made by Kalane Rampai, MD of Microsoft South Africa, yesterday at Microsoft’s AI, A New Era event in Johannesburg.

According to Rampai, the AI youth training programme is an extension of a long-term relationship between Microsoft and YES, which entails curated and developed training material, creating a training path that addresses the different levels of exposure to AI and computer science.

“This initiative speaks to three pillars that underpin AI for us at Microsoft: democratising AI innovation, ensuring that we build AI that is responsible, and skills development,” explained Rampai.

“The scale of this initiative really underlines what we believe in, with regards to democratising AI and really ensuring that as few people as possible are left behind. We hope that the young people who will be exposed to this programme will see a career in AI and, most importantly, they will recognise the potential of AI to solve our present societal problems.”

YES is a private sector youth employment programme aimed at providing youth with training and employment opportunities.

Stats SA reports that in 2022, more than 63% of people younger than 24 were unemployed in SA, and 42% of those aged 25 to 34 were jobless.

At the same time, many South African companies are not able to find developers and programmers, as the ICT skills gap continues to widen.

The one-year programme, called the AI Expert Module,is designed to enable all young people to get access to AI training modules – and be able to build skills from novice-level through to expert level.The young participants will be trained online through Microsoft’s skills training portal, with guidance from YES facilitators.

To help participants understand the fundamentals of AI, the introductory AI learning module offered is designed to provide an entry-level understanding of AI, with the focus being on highlighting the purpose and value of AI to students through a practical learning approach, says Microsoft.

The introductory course paves the way for other, more advanced training in AI programming.

“This collaborative effort with Microsoft is a testament to our ongoing commitment to equipping the youth with the digital skills for future-facing sectors and careers. The significant number of beneficiaries underscores the scale of impact we want to achieve through this partnership,” says Ravi Naidoo, CEO of YES.

According to Naidoo, from a practical level, this partnership is geared towards creating employment opportunities, while creating a pathway for a digital economy.

The idea is to identify talented young, unemployed people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are registered with YES, and provide them with these skills to excel in new jobs.

About 42% of the YES participants are hired immediately after completing a year in the organisation’s programme, he adds.

Participants who complete the AI Expert Module and who meet key criteria, will be eligible for certification.