We hear so much about the high rate of unemployment among South Africa’s youth. Indeed, we’re on the cusp of a revolution. No, I’m not talking about a revolution by disenfranchised Millennials. I’m talking about a revolution that, if harnessed, will dramatically improve the prospects of our unemployed youth.
Welcome to the digital economy.
Digital upskilling represents a unique opportunity for the young and brave at heart to transcend everything they never learned during 12 – or fewer – years of substandard education. Even the poorest legacy can be overcome in the digital economy. The thing about digital skills is that they’re a universal equalizer.
The digital economy presents an exciting opportunity for youth who were not privy to ivy league education and therefore do not boast a sophisticated understanding of numeracy and literacy. And while demand keeps growing and opportunities keep evolving for up-skilled youth, we are also seeing increasing demand for high-potential re-skilled youth that can leverage their grasp of technology to contribute value to their employers. In fact, at Mindworx Academy, where we re-skill promising unemployed graduates with relevant skills for today’s tech-focused workplace, we have great success in placing candidates in tech-orientated positions such as data analyst and business analyst roles.
This is simply because there is more call today for digital workers – business analysts, software testers, call centre operators, web and social media developers and app writers – than there is for even the most impressive Bachelor’s degree. Overlaying the degree with digital skills makes the candidate more relevant in the world of work.
The way people learn plus all the traditional skills and knowledge we have now are quickly becoming insufficient to make one competitive in an ever changing business environment driven mostly by technology. However, an agile mind and a commitment to staying relevant will never go out of date. These are among the attributes that we test for at the Mindworx Academy as we select the candidates we will help to prepare for the digital economy. We find that resilience, lateral thinking and curiosity are necessary for workplace success.
Research by the World Economic Forum shows that 65% of the jobs our children will hold don’t even exist yet. We see this every day at Mindworx Recruiting where we routinely place skilled professionals in jobs that no one had heard of a few years ago. These jobs include blockchain developers and Bitcoin traders.
The generation best placed to cope with this disruptive world is our currently unemployed youth. They will never know anything other than rapid change and a requirement for life-long learning. But this is not learning as we know it. This is interactive learning online, quickly sought and found, as and when needed, hence the decreasing need for university.
The Rockefeller Foundation describes digital jobs as those created through the application of ICT to a new or existing activity or process.
Have cell phone, will work
The most exciting sustainable area for Africa is in digital jobs that are found, performed and paid for online. With nothing more than a cell phone and internet connectivity, a savvy 18-year-old in Guguletu can earn money conducting research for a client in New York. As he understands the power that his cell phone puts in his hands, he can take on more sophisticated and lucrative work, growing his reputation and client base.
Then there are other innovation-minded and future-focused youth, like the ones we work with. Once re-skilled, they draw on their diverse theoretical and practical foundation to conduct in-depth research about systems and technological infrastructure as well as help build the platforms that propel disruption for their employers.
More than ever we are seeing work come from every size of company and from both the private and public sectors, but the future increasingly lies in the range of online platforms that are creating entirely new kinds of jobs. We need to help youth harness what this new world order brings: a significant and ongoing opportunity to create sustainable jobs for Africa’s young people.
Laying a digital foundation
There is another heartening truth about the new economy: the digital world holds no fear for young people. They are born tech savvy. Now all we have to do is lay a digital foundation that will enable them to seize the opportunities associated with this revolution.
We need to teach them such skills as how to use technology to access the opportunities that exist, how to identify which of them are good, how to get paid and safeguard themselves online, how to deliver a task, and how to build their reputations and seek further work.
As the McKinsey World of Work report details, there is an estimated shortage of 45 million medium-skilled workers in developing countries: given the freedom of the digital economy, our young people are best placed to meet this shortage.
We need more training institutions like ours, I’d argue, to help our youth – especially those who are marginalised but display high potential, a propensity to learn and a solid work ethic– to develop digital skills and see the world of opportunity that is out there for them.