By Lwazi Sithole
The lack of skills among young unemployed people in South Africa is a subject we should all be familiar with. It’s been much discussed over many years, not just by frustrated employers but by NPOs, educational institutions, civil society, and the great and the good throughout our country.
So why have we still not built our national skills capacity with a robust training offering, especially in the technology field where many of our unemployed young people could excel?
As digital natives – the Millennials and Gen Zs who were born into a digital world and grew up with an innate understanding of technology – these age groups are perfectly placed to meet local and international needs for tech roles.
One of the reasons often cited is cost – the story goes that the speed at which technology evolves makes skills obsolete too quickly to justify the cost of training.
We can no longer afford this way of thinking in South Africa.
Other countries manage to strike a balance between cost and evolving technology, and we should be able to do the same.
Yes, a few training providers in South Africa have made great efforts to bring new skills into the country, hiring German and Indian professionals to build training proficiency in Hadoop and Spark, both of which have become essential software frameworks.
They proved that it can be done and is worthwhile.
We need more training providers like this who are prepared to think creatively.
The problem is that without public sector support, there is not enough momentum to make a substantial and sustainable difference. We have lists of scarce critical skills required by both public and private sectors, but we don’t have the practical support that allows for delivery of training in these skills.
In broad terms, the practical support required must occur at the highest level.
First, we need legislators to allow for fast registration of training programmes.
Second, we need the facilitation and support of the relevant SETAs and the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) to enable speedy registration of training programmes on national curricula.
Finally, we need our government to allow corporates to build solutions tailored to their changing needs and not box them under an outdated version of B-BBEE requirements.
Businesses are supposed to be able to use the benefits of skills development and B-BBEE funding to enhance the skills of their staff and train young people to meet their actual business needs, rather than ticking boxes that are no longer relevant.
None of this will happen until our government understands that corporate South Africa cannot compete internationally if its potential is hamstrung by the slow uptake and development currently experienced when dealing with SETAs and SAQA.
The fact that they are so behind the curve means that we have had to find creative ways to service clients crying out for skilled and talented workers.
The government recently published a report listing our scarce critical skills. This includes some technologies that have been around for a while (such as RPA, machine learning, data science, DevOps, cloud computing and power platforms), making nonsense of the excuse that technology evolves too quickly to provide training.
What is needed is a training provider prepared to step outside the box.
At Mindworx Academy, we are preparing young South Africans for the new world of work through an all-encompassing programme that will provide training in the wide range of skills required by data specialists.
The tools, programmes and solutions across various platforms that are needed to provide a holistic understanding of the data environment require many skills, from data preparation and integration, integrity, security and migration to data analysis and engineering.
This means training in Azure DevOps to SQL, Python/R Suite, Hadoop, Power BI and Ab Initio, to name just a few of the relevant skills.
As you can see, the breadth and depth of this range is complex and needs a specific, bespoke solution for a specific requirement.
Putting such a training programme together is a considerable investment, essential to build our national skills capacity and meet the needs of local companies competing on international markets, in the process making a meaningful dent in youth unemployment.
Our legislators, SETAs and SAQA need to get onboard.
Lwazi Sithole is the Head of Mindworx Academy.