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STEM skills must gather STEAM

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Becky Mosehle, chief HR officer at Liquid Telecom SA.
Becky Mosehle, chief HR officer at Liquid Telecom SA.

While science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) skills are crucial to the advancement of business, these skills are not enough for workers to successfully compete in today’s job market.

This is one of the key findings of the African Digital Skills Report 2019. Compiled by Liquid Telecom, the report provides insight into Africa’s major digital skills initiatives and an analysis of how the new generation of workers will be affected by the fourth industrial revolution.

As the digital economy continues to experience huge global growth, the future workforce will require a balance of technical skills and more general-purpose skills, known as the ‘art’ skills-set, according to the report.

In the ICT sector, soft skills such as creativity, problem-solving, storytelling, social, emotional intelligence, and verbal and written communication will play a crucial role in enabling local organisations to successfully compete with international counterparts.

This is mainly influenced by the increasing need for collaboration, which requires employees and executives to be articulate, with strong interpersonal relations skills, to steer the organisation in the right direction, according to the report.

“STEM skills are important because if we do not embrace digital skills, we will perish as a country. But STEAM [science, technology, engineering, art and maths] is now gaining traction in the workplace,” says Becky Mosehle, chief HR officer at Liquid Telecom SA.

“Storytelling is relevant, especially in data analytics, because data scientists are required to source the data, analyse it, interpret it and use it as part of their decision-making process and further use it for problem-solving purposes within the organisation. Storytelling skills, which are synonymous with our forefathers, are coming back into the boardroom.”

Data science and data analytics now require more soft skills than an average job, with 9% of data science positions requiring creativity skills, team work (19%), problem-solving (22%), writing skills (27%) and research skills (29%).

Source: Burning Glass Technologies.
Source: Burning Glass Technologies.

Cognitive skills demand

The workplace of the future brings a significant change in the demand for core work-related cognitive skills, which are the core skills our brain uses to think, read, learn, remember, reason and pay attention, notes Liquid Telecom.

By 2035, Africa's labour force will be bigger than that of any individual country in the world, which offers the continent a chance to reap a demographic dividend.

“The changing nature of work and the move to flexible remote work spaces will be the biggest challenge for both organisations and employees, with technologies such as AI, robotics, sensors and data becoming strong forces of change over the next few years,” says Mosehle.

“Not only are technologies re-engineering the workplace, but they also present customer empowerment, which results in higher consumer demands. Organisations are now also forced to redesign the nature of work; source and integrate talent across networks, and implement new models of organisational structure, leadership, culture and rewards.”

Technological forces of change will result in longer lives, growth of younger and older population and greater diversity.

Source: Future of Jobs Survey, World Economic Forum.
Source: Future of Jobs Survey, World Economic Forum.

E-learning challenges

African communities are not adequately equipped with basic digital literacy, with a lack of resources in education systems and communities plagued with a lack of access to digital technologies and connectivity, the report found.

While government has put in place great ICT policies, including investment in digital skills education and training, building infrastructure such as electricity and WiFi connectivity, and providing learners with PCs and tablets, adequate implementation of these policies is still a major set-back, notes Mosehle.

“Stable Internet connectivity is still an issue in the classroom and within municipalities. However, one of the surprising findings of the research was that even in schools with no disruption in connectivity, using tablets becomes a big problem, with teachers and facilitators lacking knowledge of how to use these gadgets.

“We need to focus on more ‘train the trainer’ programmes, where teachers are adequately trained to use devices and empowered in other ICT-related skills, prior to the introduction of e-learning programmes in classrooms.”

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