In South Africa, the youth unemployment rate (15-34) is currently 38.9% according to Statistics SA. To put this into perspective, this is around one in three people who can’t find gainful employment in this country.
The unemployment rate for those aged 15-24 is significantly higher, a staggering 53.7%. Meanwhile, on the other side of the skills chasm lie organisations desperate for skilled people who can fill roles in trade, management and sales.
People who have difficult-to-find skill-sets are currently critical for the growth of the economy and in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). It is therefore also critical that there be sweeping change that will allow for people to learn valuable, transferable skills that are not only relevant to skills demand, but aimed at those who need them the most.
Creating future employment
“The focus on driving skills development is not just about ensuring employers have access to the capabilities they need, but also about helping to create future employment,” says Jaime Galviz, COO and CMO, Microsoft MEA (Middle East and Africa). “As the knowledge economy continues to develop, so the gap between skills that exist and skills that are needed will continue to grow.”
Research undertaken by Microsoft and IDC shows that cloud computing alone is set to generate more than 515, 000 job opportunities across key markets in MEA by 2022. Yet, statistics from the World Economic Forum show that around 40% of employers in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region don’t have access to the skills they need, and this is affecting growth.
Social and technology skills development
“In order to catapult South Africa into the future of 4IR, we need to create programmes that really start to address the hard topics and to build effective habits and skills,” says Veronica Brits, Partner Program Manager, RSA Web. “We need to create real life influences and stories from business people who address real life challenges. I believe that we can affect the existing ecosystem with technology, using accredited workshops and sessions to focus on social and technology skills development.”
So how can organisations focus on addressing the skills gap? Where do they look to see where they are falling behind? What tools can people pick up to drive their own advancement into the areas where skills are scarce?
The first step
The first step is to look to business programmes designed specifically to address skills development.
Change has to come from a collaboration between both the private and public sectors, a collaboration that places a much-needed emphasis on digital literacy, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM). The educational platforms that inspire design thinking, creative problem solving, innovation and which slot neatly into some of the world’s biggest skills gaps.
Many organisations have been paying attention. Microsoft Cloud Society offers free cloud modules to develop people’s cloud skills; the Southern African Institute of Learning offers the 1956 Business Empowerment Programme; the University of Johannesburg has a selection of enterprise development programmes specifically for disadvantaged youth; Oasis offers skills development in these crucial areas.
And then there is Lead Change Developments, Red and Yellow, Woolworths, and so many more.
Easily-accessed and relevant
Skills development opportunities need to become more easily available and they need to be relevant in more than just what they offer or how free their offering is, but how they offer it.
A free course in Johannesburg is as unattainable as a paid-for course down the road for those who live in rural areas and have no funds for accommodation, or internet access. Skills development solutions need to be holistic, and they need to be targeted.
However, as these opportunities become increasingly available to those who need them, it does beg the question as to which skills they should focus on to ensure they are relevant when training is completed.
Sure, STEAM is essential, but what else?
Creativity is key, but there’s more
“Creativity is a key skill to sharpen, alongside interpersonal skills,” says Jenny Retief, CEO, Riversands Incubation Hub. “We are used to thinking the fourth industrial revolution means jobs in tech, maths, engineering and robotics. This is indeed true. But there is also potential (and perhaps even more so) for jobs in User Experience design, relationship management and creative engagement.”
EQ also NB
As the founder of Google’s Empathy Lab, Danielle Krettek, said: “Your AI’s IQ is only as good as its EQ.”
In a high-tech world where automation is starting to dominate, it is going to become even more important that the human factor be valued and present. Many experts have predicted that it won’t just be the skills of digital and technology that step into the roles of the future but the skills of art, creativity, compassion, empathy and interpersonal engagement.
To remain relevant today, every person, regardless of their existing role or their plans for the future, must continuously work on developing complementary skills.
“Blend high programming with project management and a high EQ,” says Retief. “Keep learning, devote time outside of your daily work to growing your skills. Learn from the internet, a mentor or a coach. Have personal projects that activate a different part of your brain.”
For both the business and the individual it is important to start looking at the skills challenge as a pursuit worth embarking on. A complex and difficult pursuit, of that there is little doubt, but one that will have incredibly rewarding results.
Basetsana Magano, MD of Phetogo Consulting, says “My advice is to not only look at the here and now, but also to be externally and forward-focused; take time to network and be aware of changes taking place in the global workplace so that you can anticipate what the impact of the change is going to be in the future.
“This also means that you have to take risks and be willing to learn new things which may lead to making mistakes, but you have to embrace that as part of the learning curve. If you want to stay relevant, you shouldn’t be scared to make mistakes,” concludes Magano.