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SA’s ‘Harvard’ for the fourth industrial revolution opens

Simnikiwe Mzekandaba
By Simnikiwe Mzekandaba, IT in government editor
Johannesburg, 26 Nov 2020
Arthur Wade Anderson, CEO and founder of the Forge Academy.
Arthur Wade Anderson, CEO and founder of the Forge Academy.

Forge Academy, which is powered by Finnish telecoms giant Nokia, officially opened its artificial intelligence lab in SA last night.

It is well-documented that SA faces a digital skills gap, with government, private sector and industry commentators calling for an increased focus on skills development to take the country forward.

However, as the world advances towards a next digital revolution, there has been a concerted effort by government, private and civil society organisations to collaborate and address this need.

The launch of the Forge Academy joins such efforts, promising to help fill the gaps in critical skills training.

Located at The Gantry in Fourways, Johannesburg, the academy has designed what it describes as a “world-class programme” for South African youth that is modelled on Finnish education principles and equipped with Nokia smart technology.

The brainchild of social entrepreneurs Arthur Wade Anderson and Craig Clutty, Forge Academy aims to prepare students with theoretical, laboratory and on-the-job training in order to participate in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and the global digital economy.

“This is more than a dream come true for us, but a lifelong calling to forge people of purpose. We are humbled and immensely proud to launch this academic institution and incubation hub at a time when many youths need to know there is an open door for them to participate in creating a future in a world of work that is rapidly evolving,” said Anderson, who serves as CEO and founder of the Forge Academy.

Pat Wiehahn, Nokia head of strategic relationships and transformation, has dubbed the academy the “Harvard for 4IR in SA”, noting the gap in 4IR training in SA.

“When we looked at that gap, we suddenly realised that we can fill that gap. We were extremely ambitious…but we are opening this academy. We want to take students from incubation to eventually opening up their businesses.

“We are trying to fulfil the entire cycle from incubation to becoming extremely successful in your own business and absorbing fellow students into your business. To us, it is extremely important that we can fill a gap that is so needed in South Africa, and that is job creation.”

Communications and digital technologies minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, who was among the dignitaries at the launch, applauded the opening of the academy, saying it will go a long way towards building what her department has named a “4IR-capable army”.

Ndabeni-Abrahams’s ministry has set itself a target of training one millionunemployed youth in data science and related skills, to empower them to fill jobs of the future.

“South Africa, just like the rest of the world, finds itself in the middle of a new revolution,” she said. “The 4IR is creating opportunities for us to harness converging technologies to design an all-inclusive future.

“The actual opportunities for us are in looking beyond the technological advancements to come up with innovative ways to give citizens the ability to positively impact their families, communities and organisations. Institutions like Forge Academy are helping in bridging the digital divide between the digitally empowered on the one side and the digitally deprived on the other.”

A space not only for students, the academy has collaborated with the Finnish Embassy, Nokia and other corporates to provide an enabling space for start-up businesses that rely on 4IR technologies.

Here they can access special funding, laboratory time, WiFi, think tanks, smart technologies, assistance in product certification and the latest expertise, in order to play in this space.

Nokia is sponsoring 30 students for a year-long learnership in a 4IR-certified diploma. The programme has been designed by Forge Academy in conjunction with Nokia’s global team of 4IR experts and leading Finnish education specialists, with the country’s education watchdog providing oversight.

“Nokia is extremely excited about this journey to support the whole value chain from training to testing to incubation and launch, and we look forward to the opportunities that Forge Academy will create for all South Africans in an inclusive digital economy age,” stated Wiehahn.

“Our objective is to develop skill sets within the next generation of engineers, technologists, entrepreneurs and job titles still to be created in the years to come, to ensure South Africans are well prepared to take up their rightful place in their local economy.”

Once the first intake of students complete the accredited one-year diploma, the aim is that some will start their own businesses, others will further their studies at a university (sponsored by Nokia or other companies) and others could join a company where their skills will be needed.

The academy is also open for paying students who can choose from an array of short courses, such as the basics of computing and basics of coding, which is targeted at children.

“Technology has been a great enabler in this new economic age. Forge Academy will serve as a conduit for our youth, who urgently need to harness new technologies to access a higher quality of education and the job opportunities currently available in this digitally-driven economy,” concluded Anderson.

The lab workstation inside the Forge Academy.
The lab workstation inside the Forge Academy.