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Satellite technology could ease youth unemployment crisis

Lungile Msomi
By Lungile Msomi, ITWeb journalist
Johannesburg, 20 Feb 2024
Debbie Mavis director at Avanti Communications.
Debbie Mavis director at Avanti Communications.

South Africa's staggeringly high youth unemployment rate requires innovative solutions. One promising avenue lies in creating non-traditional paths into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) industries.

Speaking to ITWeb, Debbie Mavis, director at Avanti Communications (Avanti) says satellite technology could be a key part of this solution.

"Educating youth on satellite technology creates a unique route into STEM careers, while bolstering South Africa's space sector. Satellite development demands expertise in engineering, physics, data science, and software – all highly sought-after skills,” explains Mavis.

Satellite communications, and global navigation satellite services, already drive significant portions of the African space economy. To date, 13 African nations have built 48 satellites.

According to Space in Africa, the continent's space market will exceed $10-billion in value by 2024.

Avanti, a UK-based satellite operator specialising in broadband connectivity for underserved areas across EMEA, has a growing presence in Africa, with an investment of over $800 million in satellite capacity in the continent. Building on this, Avanti seeks to make a tangible impact in South Africa through learnerships in satellite technology for unemployed youth.

“Historically, the space industry catered to those fascinated by rockets and the technical aspects of space. Today, we need to spotlight the broader applications. Satellites born from space research have the power to [alleviate poverty and transform] healthcare and education—areas impacting all South Africans,” says Mavis.

She points out that STEM education offers an alternative avenue for acquiring essential skills, bypassing the need for traditional higher education. For instance, students can pursue STEM training programmes or certifications directly, without necessarily following the conventional academic path. This resonates with South Africa's National Development Plan 2030, which aims to cultivate technological skills, promote innovation, and foster critical thinking.

Drawing on experience with a UK apprenticeship program, Avanti envisions a similar project for South Africa. The proposed learnerships would offer hands-on training in satellite operations, networking, and space engineering.

Avanti plans to engage with the government to advocate for this initiative. "Our goal is to work with the South African government to make STEM a cornerstone of national development," adds Mavis.