The future of skills in Africa

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"Are we educating our children out of employment?"

This was the closing question from Mo Hassem, a former First National Bank (FNB) CIO and a founder of Hassem Prag and Bank Zero. He was speaking on the second morning of the Women in Tech Africa conference in Cape Town.

With a career in IT spanning 34 years, Hassem noted that one of the biggest concerns he had while working for FNB was around where he was going to find the skills he needed for the future. This is because the nature of work has changed as the world moves away from manual work to more knowledge-based work.

According to Hassem, along with this change comes an increased need for people with social and emotional skills.

Complex problem-solving, creativity, critical thinking and emotional intelligence are only a few of the skills employees need to have in order to stay relevant into the future, he said. This is where the real problem lies. We can have all the innovation in the world but if we do not have the necessary skills to make the most of innovation, then our efforts will have mediocre results.

For Hassem, addressing the problem starts with basic education. And we're not talking about introducing coding or fancy robotics programmes into schools. It's all about ramping up basic literacy and numeracy, he noted.

"Unfortunately, if we don't fix our education system, we are actually producing students who are unemployable. If our education isn't the right standard, people sit with a piece of paper that means nothing."

The current issue with tertiary education is that the courses being taught are not adequately equipping students to become assets to modern businesses. This requires us to engage with universities around updating the curriculum, he said, adding that there are only two universities in SA that currently offer courses in data science.

Hassem admitted that with things changing so fast, it can be hard to keep up. But if we want to secure skills for ourselves, and our future, we need to understand that corporates are not responsible for ensuring we have the right skills.

"In this digital economy, our duty is to train ourselves," he cautioned. "There is enough material out there to train ourselves and we have to be people who are constantly seeking out opportunities to learn new things."

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