Unemployment in South Africa remains a major issue, currently sitting at 26.50 percent, while the country’s youth unemployment is currently at a staggering 50.9 percent.
Despite this, many technology companies continue to cite skills shortages as one of their biggest challenges. According to Brahim Ghribi, Head of Government Relations of Middle East & Africa at Nokia, this is not limited to developing countries and there is a dire need to close the gap between the need for and the availability of skilled individuals in the workforce.
“Technology is evolving much faster than the education system,” he says. “Even high-tech companies always need to keep up with the changing technology environment and this is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed.” Ghribi says work needs to be done to identify the root cause of this to determine why there is a gap. “Is it because the youth quit school early and therefore lack the adequate training and skills required, or is there a mismatch between what they are being taught at school and the job market reality? As far as I’m concerned, in many cases, it is a combination of the two and this issue is not unique to South Africa. We need an urgent revision of the whole education system, drive broader access to the internet as an information and learning delivery mechanism, get the youth online and try to adapt learning programmes to market realities.”
He says that the rate at which technology changes requires a joint effort between the public and private sectors to find ways to allow the education system to keep up with this change. “We furthermore need to show the youth all the possibilities that lay before them. Opportunities are no longer limited to the traditional way of thinking that you go to school and on completion of your tertiary education find work at a company. I don’t think our youth today are necessarily aware of all the possibilities and they should be prepared for these opportunities. We need to show the youth that there are opportunities outside of the traditional ways of working and we must prepare them for self-employment and entrepreneurship.”
Ghribi says young people in Africa must be given the opportunity to be innovative and be given a platform to not only expose their ideas and projects but also to find investors and financial support. “In general, we have noticed that many young innovators require a set of tools or a dynamic set of support systems and mechanisms to help them even just to learn the basics. This includes guidance on how to pitch a brilliant idea to venture capital companies or investors, build a sound and scalable business model, demonstrate a proof of concept on the ground and how to gain insight into the competition. They also need support in understanding how to transform their venture plans to not only have an impact locally but allows them to become part of the global innovation ecosystem.”
He says countries need to work on reviewing their education systems and help young people establish their own businesses to remove the dependency on government and industry. Gender diversity, particularly in the ICT sector, also needs to be a priority. “We at Nokia believe that although a lot is already being done to encourage women to enter the ICT sector, it requires an ongoing effort. As a company, we strive to have a gender balance that reflects the world around us and we support several programmes to achieve this.” The company runs a project called Strong Her, which is an employee network that promotes gender diversity. “Companies need to start internally and then, also, focus on promoting diversity externally. They should also look for the skills at a much broader scale and promote women in ICT, by getting them on board and training them with the right skills so that they have an equal opportunity.”
Nokia has also been supporting the CodeBus Africa project, a 100-day tour connecting Finnish and African innovators as part of Finland’s official 100th-anniversary celebrations. The CodeBus Africa journey, which ran between February and May of this year, covered ten countries in total – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. At every stop, the CodeBus Africa team, in collaboration with Aalto University, the Finnish Embassy and several African tech hubs, schools and private companies, taught music coding and creativity to local young people, especially girls. Learners paired up to produce their own song with the open-source programming platform Sonic Pi – a tried-and-true curriculum developed by a Finnish technology education company and project partner Mehackit. Peer support, creative self-expression, and a tangible final product were all elements designed to make the learning experience positive and rewarding. The aim of the project was to boost the grassroots level teaching of computer programming and to contribute to long-term efforts to promote quality education, youth empowerment, and employment.
Another initiative Nokia is involved on a global scale is Green Light for Girls. “Through this global initiative, girls between the ages of 11 and 15 from local schools in less advantaged communities are engaged and exposed to hands-on science and technology workshops and activities. They also get direct interaction and engagement with role model professionals,” says Ghribi.
He says the responsibility to drive this change lies with both governments and private companies. “We all have a role to play and need to join hands in terms of shaping the future of technology. This must not just be done for the sake of it, but to transform the human experience. We often hear about public-private partnerships or PPP, but I believe we should use four P’s meaning public, private, people partnerships. People should be at the centre to enable the transformation and adoption of technology. We could even go as far as to say we should focus on PPYP or public, private, youth partnerships to also have the youth involved and engaged in the process.”
Ghribi says governments need to play a role in creating a favourable environment and lay out a comprehensive social strategy that puts the youth and, more particularly girls, at the heart of their plans. “We know that most governments in Africa and in other parts of the world have national ICT plans. For the youth to truly benefit, these plans must go beyond the frontiers of telecommunications and touch every sector of the economy.”
Irene von Buddenbrock