Plugging unemployed youth into ICT opportunities

We have all heard the phrase that “there is opportunity in crises” and though COVID-19 bowled us over and hit us hard with people losing lives and livelihoods, this has been true for opportunity in the for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) space.

IT professionals have been in high demand in South Africa with most companies opting to source the refined skill instead of investing in the “rough diamonds”, the unemployed youth of our country. Having worked in the Transformation space for many years and specifically in the IT Industry, this has always been a perplexing issue for me. Upskilling our unemployed youth to take up the opportunities in the ICT industry solves the problem for Industry, unemployed youth and improves the economy. It’s a win all around.

In 2020, the rate of youth unemployment in our country according to Statistics South Africa was at a staggering 55.2%. This is according to the broad definition of unemployed youth which includes youth who have given up looking for employment. Furthermore, a survey done by a United Nations Agency, the International Labour Organization (ILO), shows that South Africa has the highest rate of youth unemployment out of 189 surveyed countries. Although many of these unemployed youth are also classified as NEET’s (not in employment, formal education or training), a lot of them are in fact graduates who are unable to find employment. Part of the problem appears to be that there is a disconnect between the skills that youth are acquiring and the skills that are required in this digital age.

According to the Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, his ministry is addressing this through it’s Labour Market Intelligence research programme to support human resource development in the country. Through this programme a ‘high-demand jobs list’ has been created and reflects where workers are needed most, and what roles have the highest amount of ‘availability’. Nzimande stated that: “This list is updated every two years and marks an important step towards helping us understand better the needs of the labour market, and signals opportunities where our students and graduates are likely to stand a better chance of finding employment. These occupations are from [a range of] skills levels.” Among the top jobs on the said list are Roles in the digital economy, Data Scientists, Web developers and Computer network technicians.

“In addition to the use of a range of statistics for the compilation of this list, we had broad, as well as deep stakeholder engagements regarding which occupations are in high demand. Too many students rush into courses or programmes that we’re not short of in South Africa and are oversubscribed, which is breeding unemployment.” Stated the Minister.

At ITC Infotech, we have always supported initiatives aimed at upskilling unemployed youth to take up employment opportunities presented by the digital age. We do this through our ITC Infotech Graduate Internship Programme and Bursary Programme. The Graduate Internship programme includes providing the youth with an opportunity to get trained in India for a few months which gives them not only practical training but also global experience.

Additionally, we have been a contributor to the Youth Employment Services (YES) initiative for the past 3 years and maintained a 100% absorption rate of all YES employees and Graduate interns to date. The YES initiative was launched by President Cyril Ramaphosa in 2018 with the intention of partnering with business to address the problem of youth unemployment by providing unemployed youth with a 12-month workplace experience. The workplace experience makes it easier for them to find career opportunities.  Sharing her experience about YES-ITC Infotech partnership, the CEO of the YES initiative, Tashmia Ismail-Saville has said, “The YES partnership with ITC Infotech is a program we are exceptionally proud of.  We see youth working and training on digital skills which are in demand and can be applied across sectors. The 100% absorption also tells us that when you train youth right jobs are there. This speaks to the latent potential of South Africa’s youth and the power of tapping into the digitally native nature of these young workers.”

ITC Infotech is working on the plans for this year’s intake of YES employees and Interns.


Author:

Candice Kern-Thomas
ITC Infotech Head of Transformation and Director of Melisizwe School Computer Lab Non-profit organization

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