POWERING YOUTH EMPLOYMENT THROUGH WORK-READY DIGITAL SKILLS TRAINING

There is a massive acceleration in the use of and demand for digital skills. It is a monumental shift and the challenge for businesses is to move fast and leverage the advantage digital skills can deliver. The pace of change is phenomenal. Creating the talent to fulfil jobs that rely on information and communications technology (ICT) skills is the only way economies and businesses can remain competitive.

Digital jobs could be a game changer for the South African economy and particularly in addressing one of the biggest challenges facing our country, that of youth unemployment.

That is why The Collective X is part of an initiative being driven by Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) and Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA), in partnership with the government, to explore opportunities within the private sector to significantly scale employment for excluded youth, even within the context of constrained economic growth.

Digital skills are widely applicable to many vital areas of the economy, in sectors spanning the obvious, such as financial services, ICT and global business services, to consumer goods and retail, agribusinesses, tourism and hospitality, mining, automotive and green energy. In the sectors we have engaged so far, digital skills are rightly being pitched as one of the greatest opportunities for youth unemployment, an area where, we believe, the private sector can drive strategic relationships to boost this potential.

Importantly, greater digitisation in small businesses also has the potential to supercharge the SMME sector – itself a potential lifeline for the job creation South Africa so desperately needs.

As The Collective X, we are a not-for-profit organisation that has cultivated a partnership-centred ecosystem with a unified plan and a sense of urgency to effectively address the digital skills crisis, by among others, aligning digital skills supply with current and future market demand. There is a plethora of jobs in the digital skills universe that South Africa urgently needs, including data science and analytics, software engineering, information and cyber security, learning and education, applied computing and computational science, user-centred interface and design, artificial intelligence (AI) prompt engineering, digital product development, sales and marketing and human resource and workforce management. These should be homegrown skills.

The advantage to South Africa’s youth acquiring these skills is, of course, the flexibility they provide in terms of hybrid or remote work, and their high portability – making the skill holder uniquely employable across multiple sectors.

There are exciting opportunities too, to look to a different future for South Africa, where instead of offshoring skills, as we currently do despite the enormous unemployment rate, we can re-shore the work we have offshored – with the vacancies filled by our appropriately skilled and work ready youth. Looking even further ahead, South Africa, by capitalising on a growing digital skills base has the potential to become a net exporter of digital skills, creating 20 000 to 25 000 new jobs each year.

But this process is not linear and we need to lock down the specific problem for which we are solving. The reason we are currently not seeing young digitally skilled individuals being able to access the thousands of available jobs is that there is a gap in the route to digital skills competence. Inferior quality education and training has not adequately prepared our youth for the world of work or created what we like to call a “pathway to competence.” Part of our strategy is to facilitate work readiness among the youth, a key feature of which is to incorporate work-integrated learning into a route to competency, where youth participate in a live work environment related to the requirements of their role.

Take the job of a junior data analyst, for example. The skill involves, at a basic level, foundational training and orientation to the world of work. This involves the so-called soft skills – life orientation, behavioural skills, problem solving, creative design and language, financial and digital literacy. These are the key components needed before the foundational technical aspects of the skill, such as introduction to computing and cybersecurity, can be developed. Once a young person has achieved a grounding at NQF level 4 or 5, they are able to move to the next level of understanding – pedagogy, exercises, typing skills, user proficiency skills. These are the minimum levels of competence required.

From there we can progress the youth to work-integrated learning — this takes the form of simulated on-the-job training to expose the learner to real-world problems and projects. Once proficiency at this level is achieved, we begin the final phase of the training journey – the youth start performing the real work for a company, but under guidance. Once competency is achieved in this final phase of training, they are deemed suitable to join the company which has commissioned the training.

The advantage of this method is that work-integrated learning bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application, ensuring learners are not just employable but ready to contribute from day one—it is a lifeline to those from underprivileged backgrounds, providing the confidence needed to thrive in the professional world through mentorship and practical engagement. It is also a highly effective strategy for employers to build a pipeline of the digital skills they will need in the future.

The skills are demand-led and the youth are “skilled-to-order” – alleviating the frustration faced by many companies who relied on the previous learnership model, which pushes the supply of certain skills regardless of the demand for those skills.

Demand-led training saves time and money and holds benefits for companies and youth alike. For the learner there is a job at the end of the training, and for the company, their new employee has proven competence in the skill ordered.

An important part of our mandate at The Collective X is to advocate for the adoption of quality standards, to engage key role players to unblock barriers to sourcing digital talent at the right quality, time and price, and to scale up the digital skills supply chain. We seek to ensure South Africa adheres to global best practice and to align with the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which is the globally accepted common language for skills and competencies in the digital world, covering many in-demand occupations.

Agreed national standards are vital to ensure all stakeholders in South Africa’s bid to stimulate the economy and job creation are talking the same language, and to support skills development and skills management to meet future needs.

We believe that continued coordinated action from all stakeholders, including government, the private sector, the academic and research fraternity, social partners and civil society, can meaningfully address the youth unemployment crisis by matching skills demand with already competent digital skills supply.

This article was written by Andy Searle and published in TechFinancials and Investing.com

📷 by Ketut Subiyanto

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Ziaad Suleman

Chief Commercial Officer, EOH

Ziaad is the Chief Commercial Officer and Member of Exco at EOH, one of the largest technology services companies in Africa, where he is responsible for the overall go-to-market proposition, which includes sales, consulting, channel and OEMs, commercial constructs, investments, solutioning and marketing, as well as the Software Technology Business.

Ziaad is a notable figure in the ICT space. He chairs the South African branch of 4IR on BRICS and leads the ICT 4IR Public Private Growth Initiative (PPGI) Business Advisory Group, advising the President. His passion for community upliftment is evident through his roles as the independent non-executive chair of Qode, chair of the Parktown Girls Governing Body, non-executive Director of Charities Aid Foundation Southern Africa, and Executive Member of D1GIT NPO.

Ziaad holds a postgraduate honours degree in Law with distinction from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and an MDP Business Management degree with distinction from the GIBS

Vukani Mngxati

CEO, Accenture Africa

Vukani is the CEO of Accenture Africa, a role that showcases his extensive consulting experience and deep understanding of local markets on the continent. He has dedicated over two decades to leveraging his technical expertise and business acumen to deliver impactful digital solutions for both public and private sector clients. 

In 2019, Vukani was appointed Commissioner for the Presidential Commission on the 4th Industrial Revolution. This role underscores his commitment to advancing digital technologies.

Vukani is deeply invested in assisting clients to achieve the agility needed to thrive in today’s fast-paced environment. He is a strong advocate for the adoption of emerging digital technologies, believing that these are not just tools for improving service delivery and financial performance but also pivotal in nation-building across the African continent. 

He holds a BCom degree in Business Information Systems and Accounting from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Pieter de Villiers

Co-founder and CEO, Clickatell

Pieter is the co-founder and CEO of Clickatell, a frontrunner in the chat commerce space and the first African company to receive backing from American venture capital firm Sequoia Capital. Under Pieter’s leadership, Clickatell has flourished into a global company with operations spanning multiple continents. 

Pieter has over 23 years of experience in global telecoms, mobile messaging, and mobile payments, 10 of which he spent in Silicon Valley. Apart from his corporate achievements, Pieter is deeply invested in fostering entrepreneurship as a catalyst for economic and job growth. He is a business mentor for Endeavour and the founder and chairman of SiMODiSA, an organisation focused on accelerating start-up success for South African entrepreneurs. He is also committed to enhancing digital skills in Africa, which he views as a more significant opportunity than mining or agriculture. 

Pieter has been recognised for his exceptional leadership and contributions to the mobile industry by numerous industry organisations and publications, including Global Technology Business (GTB), which named him one of its “top 40 under 40” executives in 2011, and the San Jose Business Journal, which awarded him its Social Economic Impact Award in 2012. 

Nicola Galombik

Executive Director, Yellowwoods Holdings

Nicola is a business leader and social innovator, driving multi-sector partnerships for systems change and inclusive economic participation.

As Executive Director of Yellowwoods Holdings she leads the investment group’s efforts to drive inclusive and sustainable growth through, and with, its portfolio of businesses. She also leads Yellowwoods’ social innovation hub, impact financing and grant-making. 

Under her leadership, Yellowwoods has incubated a portfolio of African social enterprises, including the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator. Other impact focus areas include Impact Sourcing, Inclusive Carbon initiatives and Early Childhood Development.

She is currently active on numerous private sector and social sector boards, a member of the South African Presidential and Ministerial advisory on youth employment and digital skills, and a member of the advisory board of the Africa Leadership Group, the Aspen Global Leadership Network, and a McNulty Prize laureate. She won the Skoll Award in 2019 and the World Economic Forum/Schwab Foundation award for Corporate Social Intrapreneurship in 2020.

Nicola was a Fulbright Scholar and holds a bachelor’s degree in Film, Politics and Psychology from Wits University and a master’s degree in Cinema and Media Studies from New York University. She has also completed the  Leadership for Systems Change programme at Harvard.

Evan Jones

CEO, The Collective X

Evan is the CEO of The Collective X, bringing together leaders of industry to address the critical shortage of digital skills in South Africa.

Evan is leading the charge as the initiative sets to double South Africa’s output of high-demand digital jobs in the next three years while simultaneously enhancing youth digital skills, boosting employment and injecting a substantial R300 billion into the economy.

Evan was previously the Strategy Director of Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, where he managed portfolios ranging from digital strategy, new market development, and Harambee’s leadership in priority sectors like globally transacted services. 

He joined Harambee from Webhelp South Africa, a French/UK-based global operator, where he served as COO to rapidly scale the organisation’s South African operations to nearly 2,000 staff. Previously, Evan worked at Discovery Health to transition their North American operation, at TalkTalk (Carphone Warehouse) to manage their contact centre outsourced relationships covering 3,500 staff; and as Director of Operations for Merchants South Africa, managing large-scale outsourced operations across various verticals and geographies. 

Evan also served as chairman of BPESA from Nov 2018 to Oct 2021.

Mteto Nyati

Executive Chairman, BSG

Mteto is the Executive Chairman of BSG, a prominent consulting and technology company focused on strategy execution. He is the chairman of the board of The Collective X. His extensive leadership experience has included roles as Group Chief Executive of Altron, CEO of MTN South Africa, and Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa. He also served in various leadership positions at IBM over a 12-year tenure in South Africa and Europe. Mteto’s exceptional leadership has garnered recognition, winning the EY World Entrepreneur Award Southern Africa in 2021 and CNBC Africa’s All Africa Business Leaders Awards’ Business Leader of the Year in 2019.

Aside from corporate success, Mteto authored the best-selling autobiography “Betting on a Darkie,” recounting his journey from a shopkeeper’s son to a respected business leader. Committed to mentorship, he guides executives, CEOs, and emerging professionals. In 2021, the University of Johannesburg awarded him an honorary doctorate for his contributions to IT Management. Mteto, a World Fellow at Yale University in 2004, holds a BSc degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of KwaZulu Natal, reflecting the technical foundation underpinning his business achievements.

Samantha Chetty

Samantha is the Finance Executive for Funder Management at The Collective X. With 28 years of financial experience, 17 of which are in non-profit organisations, she has expertise in both national and international fund/grants management, stakeholder management across government and private sector, as well as establishing and designing financial systems for complex funder reporting, as well as building and capacitating all internal teams and external partners. Samantha holds a Masters in Business Administration from Regenesys Business School of South Africa.

Pontso Ntseuoa

Pontso is responsible for University Engagements at The Collective X, bringing over 20 years of diverse experience in both corporate and entrepreneurial settings. She has worked in a number of industries, including development funding, renewable energy, telecoms, and business consulting. Her previous roles include significant contributions at the Industrial Development Corporation and co-founding U-Network Telecoms (UNTEL). She holds a Masters in Digital Business and International Business and Entrepreneurship, amongst other qualifications.

Nkululeko Gama CA (SA)

As the Financial Accountant for The Collective X, Nkululeko plays a key role in maintaining the financial integrity and operational efficiency of the organisation. His responsibilities include assisting with the drafting of business cycle policies, handling various aspects of contracting, processing accounting transactions, reviewing accounting journals, and compiling management accounts. Nkululeko is a chartered accountant registered with SAICA.

Lebohang Mosikili

Lebo’s adept communication and problem-solving abilities contribute to the efficient functioning of the entire team. In the dynamic tech landscape, Lebo is the indispensable force behind the efficiency, and smooth-running, of The Collective X’s operations.

Jennifer Kann

As the Marketing and Communications Lead for The Collective X, Jennifer brings a wealth of experience from her 25-year career in the field. Beginning her journey as a journalist, she quickly transitioned into a corporate communications specialist. For the last 12 years, her focus has been dedicated to youth employment and related issues, highlighting her commitment to making a meaningful impact in this crucial area.

Hina Soni

Hina is the Programme Manager for The Collective X and plays a pivotal role in driving and enabling technology platforms for the mobilisation of organisation. Her focus extends to partnerships and solutions, which help bridge the digital skills gap and grow the talent pipeline in South Africa. With her qualifications and extensive experience in management consulting, she has worked across industries to deliver customer strategies and innovative technology platforms.

Fran Swart

As the head of Partnerships and Strategic Client Engagements at The Collective X, Fran is deeply invested in addressing unemployment in South Africa. Her role involves creating impactful solutions to bridge the digital skills gap in the country. Through her work, Fran has contributed to the establishment of a national digital skills initiative, coordinating efforts to deliver essential digital skills efficiently and effectively.

Dianne Woodward

With a Bachelor of Commerce degree and over 35 years of experience in human capital management and management consulting, Dianne plays a pivotal role as the System’s Architect leading the establishment and mobilisation of The Collective X. Her extensive background and expertise are instrumental in driving the organisation’s initiatives and growth.

Deidre Samson

Deidre is the Executive for Insights & Strategic Supply Side Partnerships for The Collective X. She brings a rich background in corporate marketing, strategy and innovation, fostered through her experiences in private banking and at a leading multinational alcoholic beverage company. She is a member of several expert panels, including the United Nations Development Programme and Interpol, and also contributes as a faculty member at the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Free State’s MBA Programme.

Evan Jones

Evan is the CEO, and member of the board, of The Collective X and leading the charge as the initiative sets to double South Africa’s output of high-demand digital jobs in the next three years while simultaneously enhancing youth digital skills, boosting employment and injecting a substantial R300 billion into the economy.

Charity Phakathi

Charity serves as the Finance Executive for The Collective X. Her responsibilities include overseeing Opex and Sustainability, Governance policies, Financial Modeling, Legal and Contracting, as well as preparing Annual Financial Statements for the entity. She has 30 years of experience in finance, primarily in the corporate and banking sectors. Charity is a Wits Alumni with various qualifications in Financial Accounting and Tax.

Andy Searle

With a rich history in the Global Business Services (GBS) sector, Andy is the founder of Paladin Consulting and former CEO of industry body BPESA (2017-2022). He’s been a part of The Collective X team since 2022, focusing on government relations and fostering partnerships for digital skills development.

Tim Andrews

Tim focuses on Partner Enablement and Funding Innovation at The Collective X, leading initiatives to bridge the digital skills gaps in South Africa. He has worked in corporate finance and private equity and also founded a technology business, taking Google’s Enterprise and cloud solutions to market as a premier partner in South Africa. Tim holds an Honours degree in Investment Management from the University of Johannesburg.