OPINION | Anne Lammila and Aape Pohjavirta: SA can learn from Finland to bridge the skills gap

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outh Africa needs more new businesses, and businesses need a more skilled workforce with innovative future thinking write the authors.
outh Africa needs more new businesses, and businesses need a more skilled workforce with innovative future thinking write the authors.
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While the South African talent potential is huge, the youth unemployment rate remains the highest in the world. This is due to a skills gap problem, write the Finnish Ambassador to South Africa, Anne Lammila and Aape Pohjavirta, the founder and president of Funzi.


South Africa is a beautiful country with enormously talented people whose potential is yet to be unleashed. The success of such individuals is constrained by the challenges much of society faces, one of the biggest being the all-encapsulating socio-economic inequality.

We have to focus on long-term solutions to make sure that today's challenges are tackled and overcome. It is important to support South Africa in harnessing the full potential of its youth.  

While the South African talent potential is huge, the youth unemployment rate here remains the highest in the world. This is due to a skills gap problem. In particular, there is a lack of entrepreneurship skills among young people and recent graduates. This is an impediment to South Africa's economic growth, social development, and service delivery. 

A known world leader in education

The needs of South African companies and the talents of its aspiring young workers do not always align. South Africa needs more new businesses, and businesses need a more skilled workforce with innovative future thinking.  

Finland, a long-term partner of South Africa, is known for being a world leader in education and skills development. Both things are needed when improving employability and inspiring entrepreneurship among young people. According to the European Skills Index, Finns have the best opportunities in Europe to develop their skills at work. Finland's world-class education system helps provide the expertise that companies need in order to upskill their workforce. 

Faced with both short-term and long-term political and economic shocks, the world continues to become more unpredictable. The change is happening even more rapidly than expected. We are still determining what will be trending five years from now. What we do know is that we need the latest technology and digital skills. Skills such as artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual and augmented reality, the internet, machine learning, and many other technologies are indispensable when preparing for the future. As with every country, South Africa needs those skills and has to learn them innovatively. 

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Finland, its educational institutions and companies are ready to address these challenges together with their South African partners. Finland's innovative learning pedagogy and model is unique, but we do not believe in just copying and pasting the Finnish model to South Africa. Our mission is to collaborate with South African educational institutions and companies to create its own unique South African model based on best practices from Finland.

Finland is already co-innovating and co-creating with South African stakeholders to support quality education and bridge the skills gap. For example, Funzi, a Finnish learning service, has been active in South Africa since its founding in 2014. Funzi has already served hundreds of thousands of South Africans.

Accessible and impactful  

Funzi's mobile learning service makes learning accessible and impactful. Funzi focuses on equipping the youth with critical 21st-century skills in areas with a significant gap in quality learning. With its established operations in South Africa, Funzi’s approach is well-adapted and modified to suit South African needs. 

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Funzi's newest programme, launched in South Africa on Wednesday works alongside existing technical and vocational education and training (TVET) service providers.

With Funzi's solution, students making use of the programme learn skills like how to look for work, financial literacy, or how to adopt and improve an entrepreneurial perspective. Funzi provides youth with skills to make significant contributions to business all over South Africa and could also make them highly sought-after by employers.

A recently published research conducted by Gothenburg University, showed that 98 % of Funzi users learned important skills related to employment and job seeking. Additionally, 98 % of the respondents answered that the Funzi courses had motivated them to find their dream job.

Let us help South Africa and its talented youth fulfil their dreams. Finland, together with South Africa, has a vision to provide learners with the skills they need to create a better tomorrow for themselves and their communities. 

- Anne Lammila, is Ambassador of Finland to South Africa. Aape Pohjavirta is the Funzi Founder and President.


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