SA firms set ambitious targets to plug ICT skills, gender gap

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 28 Apr 2023
Participants in the Siyafunda Community Technology Centre initiative.
Participants in the Siyafunda Community Technology Centre initiative.

In light of International Girls in ICT Day, South African firms are ramping up their digital skills training initiatives for girls, in efforts to bridge the gender digital divide, which costs women billions in lost economic opportunities.

Yesterday, almost 200 countries celebrated Girls in ICT Day, a global day declared by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on 8 April 2011, to encourage young women to pursue careers in information and communication technologies (ICT).

Hundreds of events took place worldwide, aimed at inspiring a new generation of girls to explore the exciting opportunities offered by an ICT career, says the ITU.

In light of this year’s theme, “Digital skills for life", local firms reaffirmed their commitments to help more girls in SA break into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)-related fields, through digital skills training, which lies at the heart of the future of work.

According to the United Nations, adolescent girls and young women in low- and middle-income countries miss out on $15 billion in economic opportunities due to gaps in internet access and digital skills, relative to their male peers.

Local firms SAP, Cisco and Anglo American say they are doing their part to upskill girls in digital skills, to co-create a better digital future to enable young women to have full, equal and meaningful participation in Africa’s digital economy.

Software giant SAP says it has helped upskill over 150 000 girls in SA through the Siyafunda Community Technology Centre (CTC) initiative, which forms part of its Africa Code Week (ACW) skills training initiative.

The project is ramping up efforts to reach one million girls in previously disadvantaged and underserviced communities of SA in the medium-term.

“Siyafunda CTC aims to help overcome the low rate of internet penetration by providing critical and affordable ICT, 4IR [fourth industrial revolution] and business skills training that covers a number of critical domains required for all work environments of today,” explainsCathy Smith,MD of SAP Africa.

“Academically, there have been huge improvements in participants’ school performance, and many students trained through Siyafunda CTC pursued careers in technology after completing their matric.”

Other SAP programmes focused on upskilling girls across Africa include an introduction to data science, digital literacy classes – end-user computing, school holiday programmes, web development bootcamps, and coding and robotics for girls, it says.

Over the past seven years, close to 14 million pupils and teachers from 48 African countries have been empowered with digital skills through ACW, with 49% of participating pupils being female, notes Smith.

The initiative is looking to add more female participants in future.

According to the UN, women and girls are 25% less likely than men to have sufficient knowledge and digital skills to use technology. This robs girls of crucial opportunities. While girls do as well as boys in science in most countries, such as SA, women occupy less than one-third of positions in the technology sector globally, it notes.

In addition, SA is experiencing a large-scale shortage of ICT skills. According to the latest ICT Skills Survey, the country lacks at least tens of thousands of ICT professionals, which is exacerbated by the increasing number of local ICT firms looking for talent overseas.

“With the correct investment in skills development, Africa's economy could build the world's future tech workforce, bringing untold economic and social benefit to the continent and its citizens,” notes Smith.

Cathy Smith, MD of SAP Africa.
Cathy Smith, MD of SAP Africa.

Supporting local schools

An estimated 230 million jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa will require digital skills in 2030, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation.

To prepare for these future skills, networking giant Cisco says it aims to support almost 40 000 girls to enter the STEM fields in SA, through the Cisco Networking Academy’s latest (2022) cohort of students.

Cisco Networking Academy was established 25 years ago, to provide IT courses, learning simulators and hands-on learning opportunities in cyber security, networking, programming and the internet of things, through partnerships with learning institutions.

“Cumulatively, of our 189 000 students globally, we have over 82 000 students in South Africa and 46% female participation locally,” notes Alfie Hamid, senior manager: global partnerships at Cisco Corporate Affairs.

“In the last fiscal year alone, we had 61% female participation. Additionally, over half (51%) of the 1 127 instructors in South Africa who are teaching Networking Academy courses are female.”

Since the introduction of the Cisco Networking Academy in Sub-Saharan Africa, more than one million people have been trained and upskilled in the region, it points out.

Anglo American says it rolled-out a comprehensive ICT programme across 109 schools around its mining operations in South Africa last year, to give thousands of learners the skills they need enter the digital job market.

Recently, 35 girls from the first cohort of the pilot graduated from the Anglo American ICT programme, which provides youth from the mining company’s host communities with tech skills.

“The aim of this programme was two-pronged. The first was to create awareness and a pathway for learners in our host communities to learn and access skills and training related to the future of work,” says Zaheera Soomar, global lead for education and community skills at Anglo American.

“The second was to ensure our schools are adequately supported as we embed ICT into them. Based on its success, the programme will increase its intake to 120 learners this year, coming from communities close to Anglo American’s operations in Limpopo, North West and Northern Cape.”

TheAnglo American ICT initiative has set targets such as ensuring over 50% of participants are female; over 90% of learners (girls and boys) aged five meet the minimum requirements for school readiness; 90% of grade three learners pass with at least 50% in numeracy and literacy; and 75% of grade six learners pass with at least 50% in mathematics and English first additional language.

Huawei SA, LG SA,GirlCode and Africa Teen Geeks are also among the organisations that have committed to train more South African girls in STEM, to enable the next generation of female leaders to enter the field.