With 40% of South Africa’s 20.4 million young people (between the ages of 15 to 34) currently unemployed, this poses one of the most significant challenges to the country. At the same time, businesses find it challenging to find employees with the requisite skills. In the 2019 ICT Skills Survey, despite the high overall unemployment rate, the category of Critical Skills Visa as a recruitment source is growing. This means that the local workforce can’t adequately fill the ICT-related vacancies and enterprises are recruiting these abroad.
Over the years, this survey has repeatedly highlighted the poor state of education in South Africa and in particular the meagre number of learners achieving competence in STEM subjects. Many initiatives are attempting to address this issue. Still, they tend to be in relatively small pockets and are not resolving the underlying lack of appropriate curriculum, relevant teaching materials and skilled teachers.
President Ramaphosa addressed this in last week’s State of the Nation (SONA) address, promising to build cutting-edge solutions to reskill these unemployed youth, “to increase their employability and match themselves to (available) opportunities … fundamentally changing how we prepare young people for the future of work, providing shorter and more flexible courses in specific skills that employers in fast-growing sectors need”.
How might this look?
Like in the rest of the world, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is hyped in South Africa. It is, however, a useful frame to look at the future of work Ramaphosa speaks of, and the skills required.
Although many organisations and people believe the 4IR could create new jobs and business opportunities, seizing these opportunities would require new approaches to education and workplace skills development. There is an awareness that to grasp the opportunities fully, parties need to work together across business, academia and civil society. Taking cognisance of this, in April 2019 President Ramaphosa established the Presidential Committee on 4IR which will assist the government in taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital industrial revolution. The task of the Commission, which will be chaired by the President, is to identify relevant policies, strategies and action plans that will position South Africa as a competitive global player.