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DigiLink looks to scale-up amid rising youth unemployment

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Cape Town-based incubator DigiLink plans to scale-up its digital skills project into other incubators, companies and small businesses in the near future.

This is according to Evan Jones, group strategy director of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, commenting on the future of the digital skills initiative.

Originally conceptualised by Harambee and SiMODiSA, DigiLink was introduced last October in line with efforts to upskill unemployed youth and get them to participate in the tech economy.

Work-seekers ranging from graduates to those with digital skills certificates, for example, from education providers like CapaCiTi Digital Career Accelerator, or even those that are self-taught, are sourced for DigiLink opportunities.

While in the programme, the participants are grouped into what’s referred to as pods, where they provide managed digital services, such as software testing and development, desktop support, and data analysis to real-life clients for real projects remotely. They deliver on an agreed scope of work under the supervision of experienced team leads.

In addition, they receive a stipend that covers their transport costs and living expenses.

The first cohort of candidates started their 12-month programme in October, and the incubator recently took in its second pod of candidates, says Jones, bringing the current number of participating candidates to 20.

An execution pod is a minimum of five people but can be scaled up to 20, he states. “This initial programme is developing a proof of concept and showcasing the success of an ecosystem approach to developing the digital skills needed by the country’s employers.

“By the end of the current 12-month programme, a blue print or framework will be developed for how best DigiLink incubator pods can be implemented, and that is when DigiLink sees the scaling of the project into incubators, companies, small businesses, etc; anywhere digital skills are required that can be done by entry-level workers.”

According to Stats SA data, the country’s unemployment rate increased to 32.6% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to 32.5% in the last quarter of 2020. The stats further show the official unemployment rate among youth (15-34 years) was 46.3% in quarter one of 2021.

Furthermore, research conducted by Harambee shows that over two-thirds of young South Africans are not in employment, education or training within 12 months of exiting the schooling system. It also states that 75% of these youth have no work experience.

South Africa has approximately 66 000 digital jobs available, 60% of which are suitable for first-time, entry-level workers, says Harambee.

According to Jones, DigiLink gives work-seekers 12 months of on-the-job training to access and succeed in the world of high-value tech jobs.

“The simulated work environment provides mentoring and training to fulfil available entry-level jobs and the other skills necessary to bridge the gap for success in the workplace.”

Jones believes the upskilling initiative is an excellent example of early-stage industry-level coordination in which a sector organises itself into an engine of inclusive growth. “Intra-sector partnerships have proven successful for both job and economic growth in other sectors. I'm encouraged that the digital sector is beginning to coordinate itself in the same way.”

Pieter de Villiers, CEO and co-founder of Clickatell, and chairman of SiMODiSA, adds: “DigiLink candidates are currently fulfilling some of Clickatell’s QA activities which we used to do in the US and Canada; proving that not only can young South Africans do the work if mentored and supervised appropriately, but also that we can reshore this kind of work and associated revenue.”

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