SA’s digital skills shortage is an untapped industry


Vukani Mngxati | CEO | Accenture in Africa | mail me |

Over the past few years, the world has seen a massive wave of digital advancement – especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The ways in which we engage with others and our work have been permanently altered.

Digital innovation has become a real necessity. This has brought South Africa’s severe shortage of digital skills sharply into focus. It’s a problem that could profoundly hamper our growth and progress on a global stage.

The future is digital

The fervent belief in calling this an opportunity before labelling it a crisis is bolstered by an appeal for multiple parties to step up to the plate and invest in our digital future.

The future is digital, period. What is important is for us to start. The time to talk has ended. Yes, we need policy, but let us improve it as we go along. Let us get to the point where we can begin a journey.

In processing this complex issue, we must acknowledge a fundamental truth, South Africa has no shortage of young, curious people – and the digital world offers plenty of jobs to fill. We only need to enable a match.

Digital skills are a larger opportunity for SA than mining and agriculture ever was. We have incredible talent and potential. We have a youthful population that is eager, energetic, and digitally enabled. We need to believe in our youth and invest in their potential.

– Pieter de Villiers, CEO at Clickatell

What has dawned on us is that digital skills are an industry. To build a real industry, we must come together and create a world-class capability out of our young talent. We have the main ingredient, which is young people. Now it is up to us how we methodically create the industry

Digital development

A belief in potential and taking a collective approach is certainly a start. But where to begin? We believe that schooling systems and traditional expectations need an overhaul. For a start, we need to inspire learners to take on subjects like mathematics and science, towards pursuing the career paths that will grow our country’s digital development.

We have the skills potential. We do not have the skills and competencies in maths, but we have an entire framework, and we understand how to take a young person from school and inspire them around digital skills and the potential. These roles and opportunities exist, and there are interventions to help [learners] with alternative learning journeys and non-traditional tracks, to be able to find a job and support more people. We need to launch programmes at scale and across the country.

This is no task for a solo undertaking. This will take a national and determined push across the board. In addition to growing digital minds from schooling level, another priority is raising awareness around the importance of investing effort and funds to realise our digital goals.

The reality is that it is going to take a collective effort. We have all the tools to design a digital skills supply chain for the country and put SA on the map… but we have to come together, both in the public and private sectors, and support one large initiative across the country.

I believe that tapping this potential comes with a shift in mindset. It starts by having a clear view that you can create the future that you want. We would like to create a different future where our young people are engaged, productive and able to start up their own business off the back of the technologies that are out there. It starts with being intentional and pulling together the resources we have.

– Mteto Nyati – Chairman of Wazo Investments

Collaboration is key

Collaboration is certainly key, but a strong foundation needs to be in place for big plans to unfold and potential to be unlocked.

Think about it this way: if we want this to be a national programme, it therefore by design requires the state to be at the centre of it. A national programme that must be successful has to be driven by the state. We as the private sector are happy to enable the state. We have the means; we have the knowledge, and we can do so.

The state  needs to help us galvanise funding that we require to drive the skills development programme. It is not only the state’s job to do this – we as the private sector also need to chip in. We have also a significant need for the state to help us set the right type of governance.

Setting a positive intention is one thing, but it is becoming increasingly vital for us to act now and implement our plans. Our experts take a straightforward approach. We have no option as a country. If we want to grow as a country, we must go in this direction. Our survival as an economy depends on us taking this crucial step.



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