South Africa may have produced Mark Shuttleworth and Elon Musk, some of the brightest digital minds in the world today, but the vast majority of our school leavers will matriculate without ever switching on a computer.
This is a massive injustice says Rajan Naidoo, the Director of EduPower Skills Academy, as digital skills are essential to employability and have the potential to move the needle on South Africa’s devastating youth unemployment.
“Our school education system does not provide large scale access to hardware and software so many young people have never even encountered a computer,” Rajan explains. “But the majority of non-physical skilled jobs require some level of digital skills, so first-time job seekers with no computer experience are highly unlikely to be successful in their job search.”
Instead, they will become a statistic in South Africa’s ever-increasing youth unemployment rate, which hit a record 65.5% in the fourth quarter of 2021. This means that two in every three youngsters won’t find a job – but even basic digital skills could be the difference between disappointment and opportunity.
Rajan says that digital skills can be the tools needed to mitigate poverty, unemployment and inequality as they improve employability and enable livelihood opportunities. More advanced digital skills such as software development can unlock exciting opportunities to actively participate in the emerging and competitive digital economy.
“As educators and training providers, it falls on us to assist young people to develop the skills sets that are relevant to market needs. Through learnerships, I am confident we can empower enough young South Africans with economically desirable and sustainable skills so that they have the tools to improve their circumstances and impact the unemployment rate.”
To ensure that learners are being given every opportunity, Rajan encourages companies funding learnerships for unemployed youth to double-check that digital skills are front and centre in the programme, and that the skills taught are being put into practice throughout the duration of the learnership.
“It’s one thing having a room full of computers but for learners to become confident with this technology, they have to work at it every day,” Rajan explains. “When they first enroll at EduPower, around 30% of our learners have never worked on a computer before and around 80% have no experience working in MS Word or Excel. By the time they graduate though, they will be proficient in both these packages,”
To achieve this, Rajan says that regardless of the learnership registered for, learners are all introduced to digital skills from the get-go as part of the Academy’s work readiness programme. Run in tandem with the learnership, the purpose of this programme is to bridge the digital skills gap and dramatically improve the learner’s employability.
Higher-level IT qualifications
The Academy’s IT focussed learnerships take this a step further as using a computer is core to the learnership. Rajan explains: “There are higher-level IT learnerships where special digital skills are taught such as digital languages and programming. These learnerships are increasing in popularity and the number of learners being enrolled is growing as companies are using their Skills Development budgets to effectively build and deliver capabilities for their future digital requirements.”
Rajan says that this ongoing collaboration with their clients is vital in making an impact on the challenges faced by the country and its unemployed youth. “By partnering with like-minded organisations to drive access to education and equip the South Africans that need it the most with the skills they need to compete in the digital economy of today and the future, we are creating real sustainable value that is delivering social and business value.”