July 16, 2024

A transforming tech landscape demands a transformative approach to skills development

4 min read

If businesses are still talking about planning for digital transformation, they have probably already missed the boat; and the same applies to the blanket notion of digital skills development in terms of our country’s youth, says Kirsty Phaal, senior vice-president: Human Resource at NTT DATA.

As organisations globally navigate the exponential growth of technology and data, she discusses how we must move beyond simple digital skills development to more tailored teachings that equip the next generation with real-world capabilities that prepare them to hit the ground running in the work environment:

While the need for skills development for South African youth can’t be denied, technology is transforming at such a rapid pace that this development must be approached as one cog in a complex set of moving parts. Developing advanced digital capabilities should be the new end game that requires a completely different approach to teaching and learning.

Our country currently faces an incredibly high youth unemployment rate (46% among individuals aged 15–34). Of those employed, reports estimate that 52.3% of South African workers were employed in an occupation for which they did not have the correct qualification. With these numbers in mind, there is a pressing case for us to teach the right skills instead of more skills. The question, however, becomes: what exactly are the right skills?

A firm foundation of basic computer literacy as well as development of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills to accomplish a range of tasks and solve problems in many fields is definitely a necessity – it’s a must! However, with estimations that tens of millions of future jobs globally will require far more advanced digital skills – including coding, software and app development, cloud computing, network management, AI and machine learning, big data analysis, business intelligence, blockchain and cybersecurity, among others – we must start focusing on career capability development that creates a full life cycle of employment.

A large part of this goes beyond technology into the realms of collaboration, creativity, adaptability and a more granular understanding of the digital tools and platforms that form part of our daily interactions and are prevalent in the modern workplace.

Digital literacy is at the forefront of vital skills required. If the youth are to take on modern jobs, they must be able to confidently operate digital and technical tools in their industry or job role. Critical thinking that extends to digital scenarios is also a skill that needs to be developed, as well as the ability to adapt to new technologies and changes in the digital environment, collaborate remotely in digital spaces, and to understand the basics of cybersecurity.

What types of initiatives do we need to develop these types of digital and advanced digital skills?

Our Youth Programmes where we support the development of digital literacy as part of complete ecosystem from a macro and socio-economic perspective are a prime example. We provide graduate and skills development specifically designed for young people through Saturday School where Grade 11 and 12 learners are taught the skills needed in a variety of subjects across science, technology and leadership areas in preparation to complete their final matric exams. This is also to prepare them for the working world after school. Then our Youth in Tech job-creation programme in partnership with YES4Youth helps empower and upskill the unemployed youth by providing the much-needed workplace experience required to be successfully employed in a permanent job role within the industry. They are able to experience meeting key stakeholders, learning how to network and engage with business at all levels.

At times, we have noticed that many graduates are not given the opportunity to harness their educational skills into practical environments. We also have Youth Talent Graduate Programmes that offer graduates extensive exposure to a variety of functions in their particular business area. This is where we can then focus on building the advanced digital capabilities they will need to step into long-term and sustainable careers.

Skills-led learning in practical situations is the only way we are going to empower the next generation to handle the multifaceted work landscape of the future. As much as we embrace digital transformation, we must embrace skills development transformation. The skills we are teaching youth today will look completely different to what we could be teaching in 18 months. This is why we must focus on rather entrenching core capabilities that can evolve as the demands of the role do.

Of course there are challenges that we need to overcome – education, infrastructure and government policies, for example – which may not be in our power to change immediately. What we can, and should be doing with urgency, is closing the capabilities gap with initiatives, programmes, workshops and mentoring that provides hands-on experiences for engaged learners in real-world digital spaces.

Image credit: wayhomestudio/Freepik

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