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By Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer: Corporate Affairs for Vodacom Group
As we celebrate the 2020 National Youth Month to commemorate the 1976 Soweto Uprising where young people took to the streets to fight for freedom and the right to equal education, it is vital to analyse the changing landscape of the education sector and the struggles our youth face today.
While much has changed since June 16, 1976, today’s youth are facing many challenges relating to unemployment, inequality and poverty. South Africa’s most recent quarterly labour force survey put the country’s youth unemployment rate at 58.1% in the last quarter of 2019 and expected to be far higher due to the COVID-19 impact on the economy. Income inequality is among the highest globally and access to quality education remains a barrier for many.
However, South Africa has entered a digital revolutionthat will reshape the way we work, the way we live and the way we relate to each other. This Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is characterised by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical and digital worlds, impacting all disciplines, economies and industries.
It is estimated that 65% of children entering primary school will find themselves in new occupations that don't currently exist today. A major challenge that youth face today is that the current education system is not aligned with the needs of the 4IR.
Vodacom remains committed to the creation of skills development and job creation opportunities by exposing the youth, who would not ordinarily have had access to such skills, with training in order to help close the skills gap within the country’s ICT sector.
Education is a fundamental building block for economic growth. In Sub-Saharan Africa, there is an estimated 32.6 million children of primary school age and 25.6 million adolescents not in school - according to UNICEF. Digital technology can enhance both the quality and access to education and learning, while reducing the cost of delivery. Vodacom is democratising education through technological solutions that include e-Learning, open access courses and access to e-books.
The transformative potential of digital technologies is clear and must therefore be properly understood and utilised to take advantage of opportunities, while mitigating the challenges, specifically for the youth. Africa has the world's youngest population, with almost 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24 years. By providing access to digital skills training and jobs for young people, Vodacom is enabling the future generation to participate meaningfully in the digital economy.
Preparing young people for a digital future
Learning the language of coding is key in preparing young people for a digital future. Coding is a way of solving problems, sequential thinking and stimulating, creating and designing. According to UNESCO only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women.
Vodacom invests in digital skills training programmes for young women to narrow the gender digital divide at an early age. The ‘Code like a Girl’ programme aims to develop coding skills and valuable life skills for girls aged between 14-18 years, and encourages girls to consider the uptake of STEM subjects. The programme was implemented in South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, the DRC and Lesotho with over 1000 young girls trained in 2019.
Driving youth empowerment
In 2014, in partnership with Cisco and Microsoft, we founded the Vodacom Youth Academy with the purpose of providing job opportunities by training young people on digital skills, free of charge. Focusing on unemployed youth, the Vodacom Youth academy provides training in ICT-related content material, and transitions selected learners into an entrepreneurship programme. As part of experiential learning, participants at the Academy have the opportunity to assist with installing IT equipment and providing computer skills at Vodacom’s teacher centres and connected schools. To date 1 333 learners have graduated from the Youth Academy with certified diplomas in Information Technology Technical Support.
To give today's graduates with the ambition and drive to shape their world, Vodacom offers the Discover Graduate Program. The program provides young graduates with an accelerated career path and helps them to gain high business exposure from day one. Furthermore, we have the Youth Council initiative in place where young people are selected to shadow Vodacom Group EXCO members and CEO. This initiative is designed to give young people exposure to business, strategy formulation and implementation and decision making at the highest levels of Vodacom Group.
To further support the youth in their search for employment, in April we unveiled ConnectU, a zero-rated platform that provides content aimed at social development and offers a variety of essential services free of charge. For example, youth can use the platform to access jobs portals to view and apply for job opportunities as advertised in the seven zero-rated South African job portals. Our Future jobs finder service is also available to provide career guidance and training content to enhance opportunities for the youth of South Africa in the digital economy.
As South Africa, along with the rest of the world, transitions into the digital future that will reshape the way we work, the way we live and the way we relate to each other. It is becoming clear that this revolution will have a tremendous impact on many academic disciplines. Therefore, it was necessary for us as the country’s leading digital telco to take it upon ourselves and launch these initiatives to prepare the youth of South Africa so they can adapt skills of the future. We cannot do it alone; hence, we rely on partnerships to do this work. There is a pressing need to forge increasingly meaningful partnerships to deepen and accelerate the impact of our collective programs and help to move South Africa forward.