Digital skills will help curb youth unemployment: Nxesi


Employment and Labour Minister, Thulas Nxesi

JOHANNESBURG – EMPLOYMENT and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi says upskilling youths and preparing them for the digital economy will help dent the scourge of joblessness in the country, especially among young people.

Nxesi, who has been tasked by President Cyril Ramaphosa with coming up with a jobs plan for South Africa, where unemployment is one of the worst in the world, was speaking during the Huawei ICT Youth Up-skilling Programme on Thursday.

He said needs-based training, rather than “training for training’s sake”, which resulted in issuing of certificates that offered trainees no real edge in the labour market, was the way forward.

“As government we have now said that training must be ‘demand-led’, that is, led by the demands of the labour market for specific skills. This means aligning training to the future of technology and the future world of work. This also means linking training to the provision of employment opportunities in those specific skills,” said Nxesi.

The programme, a partnership between the global tech giant and its subcontractor partners, will see 150 young people receive training to get them “job ready” for careers in ICT as field maintenance engineers, electrical engineers and riggers.

At least 100 of the successful trainees will be absorbed by the subcontractors and stand a chance to become champions in the ICT sector as South Africa chases an inclusive digital economy, one of the government’s key plans for the future.

The programme, which runs until December next year, is divided into two phases. The first is a 10-day theory course on Wireless/TX Training comprising of Site Energy Maintenance, Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) and Operation Web Services (OWS) tools practice testing.

This will be followed by a month-long, intense internship programme where the young graduates will get field work experience and on-the-job experience. Those that survive this tough phase will then be offered employment contracts.

Thursday’s event was attended by 26 trainees, 12 of whom had completed the first phase and are ready for their internship. The rest are still undergoing the first phase of the training.

Acting Principal Malose Joseph Monyamane said 16 learners are from South West Gauteng Tvet College in Soweto, South Africa’s most iconic township.

Bright Leso, one of the bright sparks of this programme, said the hardware installation training had given the graduates a rare opportunity to survive the highly-demanding tech sector.

“We have gained valuable insight into the telecommunication industry over the past two weeks. The amount of knowledge we have gained equated to being taught over six months. The training was intense, focused and practical,” he said.

He added: “We are mentored by the same engineers who taught and mentored those engineers who work for big telcos. This training we received has the potential to open doors for us in the telecommunication industry.”

In an era where even university graduates with master’s degrees can’t find employment, this is an opportunity these selected youths know they can’t let pass.

Nxesi urged the trainees to grab the opportunity with both hands. “You are at an important point in your career path. Your future success is in your own hands. This requires hard work, diligence and commitment.

“You have been provided with a valuable and unique opportunity, not only for training and employment, but to be part of the future of technology and the future world of work. Make the most of it,” he said.

Nxesi laments the scourge of youth unemployment and how this meant thinking differently and skilling people differently for the modern economy.

“The president has been talking about attracting investment, but we have also been talking about the issue of skills, because unemployment in this country is structural. It is linked to the poor education which we have, which has not emphasized the skills for people to be absorbed into the labour market,” says Nxesi, a veteran trade unionist and former teacher.

“So people do not have the modern skills or the skills for the modern economy, this digital skill.”

Nxesi says the training programme fits glove-in-hand with what government wants to achieve.

“It is dovetailing with our thinking of the programmes which we want to have or want to run with the different departments when it comes to training. We don’t want training for the sake of training.

“It must be training which is linked to- or demand-led- to the skills which are needed in the market. And once you talk about the digital skills, you talk of the skills of the new economy today.”

Nxesi says skills transfer is a key component of the partnership.

“For companies coming from outside, it must not be about the workforce which they employ, it should be about how they transfer those skills even to people outside their companies, because whether we like it or not, the digital skills have become so key for our future economy.

“We need partnerships with companies operating in this space, to train our youths en masse. If you are looking at the unemployment rate- and I am supposed to be the one coming up with the employment strategy of the country,- it is talking amongst others to this particular area of the digital skills.”

In line with South Africa’s foreign policy, Nxesi refuses to be drawn into the politics between the Chinese company and the USA over allegations of spying, which the tech giant has denied.

” I don’t want to get into that ideological debate between the United States and China. But the reality is that we will work with whoever comes to us. Huawei has come to us, and we are interacting with them on the basis of the programme which we agree with, not what they are just giving us.

“So we are in partnership, and we will be in partnership with anybody else, even with the United States, or with companies from the United States. We are ready and we are open to them. We won’t get into the ideological debates between the two countries,” he said emphatically.

The government hopes that these partnerships will help create jobs, foster skills transfer, especially among the youths, and drive 4IR.

Huawei Southern Africa president Leo Chen says the demand for digital skills means South Africa needs to produce graduates that are ready for 4IR.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution represents the great shift of our time. There are three key pillars supporting the realization of 4IR, namely technology, digital application, and digital talent, which is the most important part.”

He added: “Most of the jobs will have an ICT component in the future. ICT skills have been highlighted as skills that are most in-demand in the national list of occupations in high demand research in South Africa. Digital talent is the soft power of a country. It determines a country’s global competitiveness in the digital era.”

He emphasized the need for “more ICT-savvy” policy makers who will lead the country into the digital age.

Said Chen: “We need reskilled and upskilled ICT workforce to better innovate so the country can leapfrog its way into the future. We need to encourage and empower the youth to follow ICT-related studies so the country will have a strong pool of digital talent needed for socio-economic development.

“And the fundamental layer is promoting digital literacy among ordinary citizens to bring about a knowledge-based society. When being a tech geek becomes cool, we can look forward to a digitally motivated future.”

– Zambezi News



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