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While South Africa’s youth unemployment rate rampantly soars, the country’s digital skills shortage is expanding at its seams. ICT skills are the rarest ever on record, especially among women, but urgent intervention from the likes of Prudence Mathebula is helping stop things from getting a lot worse, before getting any better.
As the founder and managing director of Dynamic DNA, Mathebula knows that addressing South Africa’s critical skills mismatch head-on is the only way of improving the future of the youth, and the country.
Through her training and skill development company, the 32-year-old Soweto-born entrepreneur is determined to close the digital skills gap for companies and upskill as many of the eight million, underprivileged and unemployed 15-34-year-olds as possible.
“By giving them the right skills for tomorrow’s job market, they can competently be absorbed into the labour force,” she explains.
Her passion for skills development came ablaze after she completed a degree in B-BBEE management at the University of Witwatersrand and joined Dynamic Visual Technologies (DVT).
While implementing a skills development programme that she had single handily secured funding for and registered with the MICT SETA, Mathebula was stunned to find so few black ICT professionals and especially women.
Unafraid of hard work and with perseverance, she spearheaded the concept of Dynamic DNA literally overnight.
“I saw an opportunity that other training providers were not doing but which was desperately needed in the ICT sector and that was providing companies with faster access to SETA grant funding, and learners with practical learning and mentoring component making them employable,” she says.
It’s certainly a step in the right direction but Mathebula identifies four major stumbling blocks that hinder hopes of meaningful progress unless companies commit to youth skills development to close the digital skills gap and more young people choose ICT as a career.
Securing funding for youth programmes
The Skills Development Act and the Skills Development Levies Act provides for companies to secure SETA funding and SARS rebates for skills development, with the benefit of improving their B-BBEE scorecard as well.
80% of SETA grants are set aside for pivotal training programmes for youth skills development including mandatory and discretionary funding.
However, this funding is not accessed because the process is cumbersome, and companies do not have internal capacity or know-how to follow through on the process, keep an eye on discretionary grant submission dates and ensure accurate evidentiary documentation is in place.
If companies prioritise learnerships, bursaries, skills development programmes and internships for young people they can take advantage of these grants and address their future skills needs at the same time.
And the process does not have to be difficult if they form strategic partnerships.
“Because of the Dynamic DNA SETA relationships, expertise and administrative management of the skills development process we have been able to reduce ICT learnership and skills development costs for our clients by up to 63%,” says Mathebule. “Besides the SETA grants, SARS rebates also provide youth wage subsidies and Pivotal programme rebates.”
Eliminating barriers to entry
Most companies today require potential employees to have qualifications in the form of a university degree as well as specific work experience, but Mathebula knows that this is not always possible among the underprivileged.
When her own family was unable to fund her university studies, Mathebula used her drive and ambition to source every possible alternative. A one-hour walk to enrol for a bursary offered by MICT SETA was worth it when she was accepted along with 30 other students out of hundreds of applicants.
But she knows not everyone has the same motivation. By partnering with top ICT vendors, Dynamic DNA provides a variety of fully accredited, specialist courses for digitally savvy Generation Z candidates who have the right cognitive abilities, behaviours, and values, but not the qualification to match.
Through learnerships, bursaries, skills development programmes and internships combined with SETA grant funding Mathebula’s company is creating a better future for all.
For young people to even consider pursuing a career in ICT, they need to have the aptitude for it including being good at Maths, English and a passion for solving challenging problems, and the will to go for what they want.
And while IT is not for everyone when you understand that a critical shortage of skills is impeding South Africa from progressing and competing on the world stage, it is important to create awareness about the opportunities available.
Even for young people who are not attracted to being a technical geek there are a wide variety of non-technical jobs that require ICT skills but also high levels of creativity such as digital marketing.
Bridging the gender divide
Perhaps an indication of just how uncommon it is for South African women to even consider a career in ICT, Mathebula completed a Vega diploma in marketing and advertising first and instead began a successful career in sales.
Part of the problem is that statistics show South African women are grossly underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at university level, which restricts the pool of skilled female talent available to fill essential jobs in the ICT sector.
As a women role model, Mathebula is leading from the front by empowering women in ICT through her 4IR4HER movement. She aims to promote and develop grassroots skills and create employment opportunities for 5 000 underprivileged women in the domestic technology industry and already has 15 women partaking in the programme.
“There is a gap for women to take on powerful positions in business, in the technology sector, and entrepreneurship and yet we see a few successful women who have made it in the industry. I want to change the narrative for young women to one where you do not need to be interlinked to a man to become successful,” she concludes.