Digital and tech work offer opportunities for unemployed youth

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Unemployment is the biggest challenge facing youth. Picture: iStock
Unemployment is the biggest challenge facing youth. Picture: iStock


Three million jobs have been lost this year. By the end of June, youth employment had dropped a staggering 12 percentage points to just below 16%. If job losses persist, we will have lost a decade’s worth of job growth in only six months.

Findings from the Harambee Mapping of Digital and ICT Roles and Demand in South Africa survey, released today by Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, have identified what functions and competencies are in demand for digital and information and communication technology (ICT) work, and which certifications are most needed by businesses and employers.

A significant conclusion is that growth in digitised services has the potential to unlock jobs for youth at scale.

“Our research forecasts demand for 66 000 jobs in digital and ICT roles in the next year, two-thirds of which are entry-level,” says Harambee group strategy director Evan Jones.

“The advent of technological innovation has for many years been the single biggest driver reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work and the skills we will need to be productive contributors in the future.

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More recently the required skills that meet the criteria of digital workplace demands, many of which do not currently exist, are expected to accelerate as the country is further catapulted into the 4IR [fourth industrial revolution],” adds Juanita Clark, CEO of Digital Council Africa and partner in the research project.

The research also shows that 69% of respondents outsource digital work and expertise to other countries. This equates to R150 million paid annually to service providers in other countries, which translates into an estimated lost export revenue for South Africa of about R8.5 billion every year.

However, this country is already uniquely qualified on some of the factors that matter the most to respondents, with more than half (55%) indicating they can service international markets from South Africa.

“Bringing back this digital work presents significant high-earning job opportunities for unemployed youth in South Africa,” comments Jones.

“South Africa must prepare its skilling pathways and training programmes to meet this demand and ensure that young people who need those jobs the most are brought into the digital economy.”

The report also provides a detailed understanding of the job roles that can unlock employment for youth now and in the future.

Desktop support technicians, junior software developers and data analysts top the list as the entry-level roles that are most in demand.

Over the next five years, machine learning and data management skills will grow in importance, with data analysis viewed as the most important.

The imperative now is to generate skills for these jobs. Pathways into digital roles need to be cheaper, quicker and more inclusive, because traditional training programmes that require many years of formal training, degrees and extensive work experience exclude many young people who can do the work.

The most favoured solution by survey respondents to cross this hurdle is micro-credentials which offer subject-specific certifications for those who cannot access a full university degree. Ranked second is ongoing life-long learning.

Vendor-specific certification is a form of micro-credentialing that is readily available to young people.

The research found that the vendor-specific certifications that are most in demand included Microsoft Azure data scientist and developer, Google Cloud developer and Amazon Web Services cloud practitioner.

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The research makes it clear that, despite the current global recession, the digital economy continues to grow and requires digital and ICT skills to fuel its requirements.

But Jones says employers are going to have to be realistic and receptive when looking for young talent to fill these roles, which will require them to place more focus on the attributes, aptitude, cognitive abilities and emotional intelligence of young people, as opposed to degrees, diplomas and unrealistic functions or expectations for job roles.

Public-private partnerships are required to build digital simulation academies that provide focused experiential learning for high demand roles and address unemployment with sustainable skills pipelines.

Using this evidence base, government and other stakeholder partners can and should realign much-needed digital and ICT skills to be led more by demand across the skills ecosystem.

Ziaad Suleman – SA chair of 4IR at Brics (the group of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), IBM chief operating officer, and Public-Private Growth Initiative skills and digital transformation leader – has commented about the research: “At a time of much-needed economic stimulus, this data-driven and substantive quality output has presented itself at the most opportune moment.

“I am particularly pleased to see the depth of understanding and analysis of the market, as it aligns an opportunity to demand. This is the key prerequisite in addressing the skills deficit and reducing the rate of unemployment, thereby creating economic recovery and prosperity. The key now is leadership across all levels and sectors for us to build upon the unquestionable promise and opportunity to revive economic inclusivity.” - Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator


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