Digital skills will help curb youth unemployment: Thulas Nxesi

Labour minister believes needs-based training is the way forward

29 September 2021 - 07:00 By Japhet Ncube
Labour minister Thulas Nxesi addresses the Huawei ICT youth upskilling programme last week.
Labour minister Thulas Nxesi addresses the Huawei ICT youth upskilling programme last week.
Image: Supplied

Employment and labour minister Thulas Nxesi says upskilling South Africans and preparing them for the digital economy will help dent joblessness in the country, especially among young people.

Nxesi, who President Cyril Ramaphosa has tasked with coming up with a jobs plan for SA, where unemployment is among the worst in the world, was speaking during the Huawei ICT youth up-skilling programme last week.

He said needs-based training, rather than “training for training’s sake” which resulted in issuing certificates that offer trainees no real edge in the labour market, was the way forward.

“As government we have said training must be ‘demand-led’, that is led by the demands of the labour market for specific skills. This means aligning training to the future of technology and the future world of work. This also means linking training to the provision of employment opportunities in those specific skills,” said Nxesi.

The Huawei upskilling programme, a partnership between the global tech giant and its subcontractor partners, will see 150 young people receive training to get them “job ready” for careers in ICT as field maintenance engineers, electrical engineers and riggers.

At least 100 of the successful trainees will be absorbed by the subcontractors and stand a chance at becoming champions in the ICT sector as SA chases an inclusive digital economy as one of government’s key plans for the future.

The programme, which runs until December next year, is divided into two phases. The first is a 10-day theory course on Wireless/TX Training, comprising:

  • site energy maintenance;
  • standard operating procedures (SOP);
  • environmental health and safety (EHS); and
  • Operation Web Services (OWS) tools practice testing.

This will be followed by a month-long, intense internship programme where the young graduates will get field work experience and on-the-job experience. Those who survive this tough phase will be offered employment contracts.

There were 26 trainees at the end, which took place last Thursday. Twelve had completed the first phase and are ready for their internships. The rest were undergoing the first phase of training. 

Acting principal Malose Joseph Monyamane said 16 learners were from South West Gauteng TVET College in Soweto.

Bright Leso, one of the bright sparks in the programme, said the hardware installation training had given the graduates a rare opportunity to survive the highly-demanding tech sector.

“We have gained valuable insight into the telecommunication industry over the past two weeks. The amount of knowledge we have gained equated to being taught over six months. The training was intense, focused and practical,” he said.

Bright Leso, one of more than two dozen youngsters who are part of the digital skills training programme, says what they're learning will make them employable.
Bright Leso, one of more than two dozen youngsters who are part of the digital skills training programme, says what they're learning will make them employable.
Image: Supplied

­“We are mentored by the same engineers who taught and mentored the engineers who work for big companies. The training we received has the potential to open doors for us in the telecommunication industry."

In an era where even university graduates with master’s degrees can’t find employment, this is an opportunity these selected youth know they can’t let pass.

Nxesi urged the trainees to grab the opportunity with both hands.

“You are at an important point in your career paths. Your future success is in your own hands. This requires hard work, diligence and commitment.

“You have been provided with a valuable and unique opportunity, not only for training and employment, but to be part of the future of technology and the future world of work. Make the most of it,” he said.

Unemployment in this country is structural. It is linked to poor education which has not emphasised the skills for people to be absorbed into the labour market.
Labour minister Thulas Nxesi 

Nxesi lamented the scourge of youth unemployment and how this meant thinking differently and skilling people differently for the modern economy.

“The president has been talking about attracting investment, but we have also been talking about the issue of skills because unemployment in this country is structural. It is linked to poor education which has not emphasised the skills for people to be absorbed into the labour market,” said Nxesi, a veteran trade unionist and former teacher.

“People do not have the modern skills or skills for the modern economy, this digital skill.”

Nxesi said the training programme fits with what the government wants to achieve.

“It is dovetailing with our thinking of programmes which we want to run with different departments when it comes to training. We don’t want training for the sake of training.”

Nxesi said skills transfer is a key component of the partnership.

“For companies coming from outside, it must not be about the workforce they employ. It should be about how they transfer those skills even to people outside their companies because whether we like it or not, digital skills have become key for our future economy.

“We need partnerships with companies operating in this space, to train our youths en masse.”

In line with SA’s foreign policy, Nxesi refused to be drawn into the politics between the Chinese company and the US over allegations of spying, which the tech giant has denied. 

“I don’t want to get into that ideological debate between the US and China. But the reality is we will work with whoever comes to us. Huawei has come to us, and we are interacting with them on the basis of the programme which we agree with, not what they are giving us. 

“We are in partnership, and we will be in partnership with anybody, even with the US or companies from the US. We are ready and open to them.”

The government hopes these partnerships will help create jobs, foster skills transfer, especially among the youth, and drive the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

Huawei Southern Africa president Leo Chen said the demand for digital skills means SA needs to produce graduates who are ready for 4IR.

Digital talent is the soft power of a country. It determines a country’s global competitiveness in the digital era.
Leo Chen, Huawei Southern Africa 

“Most jobs will have an ICT component in the future. ICT skills have been highlighted as skills that are most in-demand in the national list of occupations in high-demand research in SA.

“Digital talent is the soft power of a country. It determines a country’s global competitiveness in the digital era,” he said.

Chen emphasised the need for “more ICT-savvy” policy makers who will lead the country into the digital age.

“We need a reskilled and upskilled ICT workforce to better innovate so the country can leapfrog its way into the future. We need to encourage and empower the youth to follow ICT-related studies so the country will have a strong pool of digital talent needed for socio-economic development.

“The fundamental layer is promoting digital literacy among ordinary citizens to bring about a knowledge-based society. When being a tech geek becomes cool, we can look forward to a digitally motivated future.”

Zambezi News


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