20 000 young South Africans to get digital skills boost

By Edwin Naidu Time of article published May 2, 2021

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Making South Africa’s youth employable through freely accessible digital skills and low-cost certification training took a giant step forward when technology leader Microsoft kicked off its partnership with the Public Service Sector Education and Training Authority (PSETA) and inspirational helping hand skills organisation Afrika Tikkun to provide online opportunities for 20 000 young people.

The South African leg of the global effort to boost skills of young people throughout the world received a ringing endorsement from South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Blade Nzimande, who described education as a key weapon in the fight against poverty and inequality, and which could roll back the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is also an undisputed fact that Covid-19 has acted as an accelerant on the back of previously existing levels of social inequality In our country,” Nzimande said during the webinar on Thursday.

Nzimande said in the first quarter of 2020, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the country’s workforce had dropped from 16.4 million people to 14.1 million. While there are current indications that the economy is recovering - in the fourth quarter of 2020, the workforce figure rose to almost 15 million - it is still far from the levels of the first quarter.

According to Onyinye Nwaneri, chief executive at Afrika Tikkun Services, South Africa’s youth, particularly those from underserved communities, have borne the brunt of the economic crisis precipitated by the pandemic, with unemployment going up to 32.5% and 7.2 million people unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2020. “Many of these young people are desperate to gain future-ready, relevant skills that will help make them more employable,” she said.

The minister echoed her sentiment, saying that this skills intervention, which targets about 20 000 unemployed youth, will go a long way towards addressing the country’s unemployment challenge. “I welcome this initiative as it will continuously improve the prospects of our youth to meaningfully participate in our economy and support a number of initiatives we are undertaking,” he said.

Nzimande added that the effects of the pandemic provides both the government and the private sector an opportunity to inject new perspectives into turning the country’s socio- economic fabric around. “I am happy with this initiative and the partnership involving the PSETA, Microsoft South Africa and Afrika Tikkun Services on the Global Skills Initiative South Africa (GSISA), especially that you are seeking to reach huge numbers of unemployed youth in all provinces in digital skills,” he added.

Nzimande said the Global Skills Initiative for South Africa fits well with the government's drive to massify digital skills provision in the country, taking into account transformational and developmental imperatives such as race, class, gender, geography, age and disability.

“The focus on skills is wide-ranging and entails optimising the regulatory environment, structural reforms to boost education and skills development, and a concerted effort to build the skills base required by our changing economy ahead of global technology advances, to ease entry and lower the cost of doing business, and to create greater levels of inclusion for young people, women and persons with disability,” he said.

Through this initiative, delegates on the webinar heard that the emphasis was on building digital skills capabilities in South Africa, and to improve the employability of the country’s youth in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry by providing the physical footprint and infrastructure these young people need to access this digital skills training.

This partnership between the public and private sectors will harness the individual and collective capabilities of each of the partners, to provide the support needed to access the training.

The Microsoft Global Skills Initiative has helped over 30 million people in 249 countries and territories, and nearly 300 000 in South Africa, to gain access to digital skills, topping its initial goal of 25 million last June.

Microsoft is extending through 2021 free LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft Learn courses and low-cost certification that aligns to 10 of the most in-demand jobs.

Lillian Barnard, managing director at Microsoft South Africa, said it was clear that digital skills were the key to employability and economic growth, supporting her argument with evidence of research which has found that the most critical future skills that businesses will continue to require in the next five years are all digital, with data analysts, data scientists and machine learning specialists topping the list of the most in-demand roles.

This partnership aims to pass on the most critical skills by providing the training, tools and platforms designed to connect job-seekers with employers. It is supported by resources from LinkedIn, GitHub, and Microsoft, availing young people with access to digital skills courses for the most in-demand jobs, and low-cost certification.

As part of this, Microsoft would extend free LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft Learn courses and low-cost certification that aligns to 10 of the most in-demand jobs through to December 31, 2021, Barnard said.

Also included in the initiative is: the use of LinkedIn Skills Path to help companies better hire for skills; expanded access to LinkedIn’s Skills Graph to help create a common skills language for individuals, employers, educational institutions and government agencies to help improve workforce planning, hiring and development programmes; Career Coach, a Microsoft Teams app powered by LinkedIn, to provide personalised guidance for higher education students to navigate their career journey; and Microsoft’s Career Connector, which intends to place 50 000 job seekers who have built skills via Microsoft’s non-profit and learning partners in tech-enabled jobs over the next three years.

“By providing youth with the learning paths of the skills that are most in demand, the initiative is helping create employability and to bridge the skills gap in the country. It is extending the footprint of Microsoft’s global skills initiative by harnessing the power of partnerships and enabling more widespread access to critical digital skills training,” added Barnard.

Thulani Tshefuta, chairperson of the PSETA Accounting Authority, said when young people do not enter the labour market or find opportunities for further education or training, the country missed out on the potential of these youth to contribute to the economy, productivity and growth.

PSETA will support unemployed learners to access this opportunity and promote the initiative through its networks to ensure that as many unemployed learners as possible have free access to the best resources, to improve knowledge and capabilities, Tshefuta said. This includes leveraging partnerships with other public sector entities in opening up access to libraries, computer labs, community halls and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges, as well as assisting with the connectivity needed to participate in, and complete the training and certification that will help their employability by bringing them into the digital economy.

Bontle Lerumo, chief executive at the PSETA, added that finding ways and forging meaningful collaboration to empower South Africa’s youth with the skills they needed to effectively navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution was a key priority for the government, and collaborating with private sector partners, including corporates and civil society, was essential to prepare youth for the workplace of the future.

Young South Africans interested in accessing these critical digital skills can learn more on the Microsoft site: https://news.microsoft.com/skills/

Afrika Tikkun is hosting and facilitating access to the portal – https://afrikatikkunservices.com/gsisa/ – where young people can register, undergo an assessment and start on their identified learning pathways. All of the resources for the Global Skills Initiative are also available at www.aka.ms/jobseeker

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