SA TVET colleges must be springboard for tech jobs

South Africa’s education system needs to shift from its focus on passing an exam and receiving a certificate, to become a pathway towards employability.

This was the word from Nyari Samushonga, CEO of WeThinkCode, during a panel discussion at the State IT Agency’s (SITA’s) GovTech 2023conference.

The discussion, moderated by TV personality Leanne Manas, also featured Mamela Luthuli, CEO of Take Note IT, and Cisco GM for South Africa Smangele Nkosi. It unpacked the ongoing debate that women should be far more important in the ICT sector than they currently are.

Samushonga pointed out that SA’s university pipeline produces 2 900 software developers each year, while conversely, studies estimate there are 40 000 unfilled software developer jobs.

Within the technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges space, there are 5 000 young people recruited into various ICT tracks within South African TVETs, she said.

However, only 5% graduate with an ICT qualification nationally.

“How did we get to this environment where only 5% graduate? How do we get young people not just trained, but trained with skills that are sought-after in the workplace?

“We need to come up with a policy that would focus on ICT training in the TVET colleges; we must capacitate that policy with an implementation plan where there’s money and infrastructure.

“Anyone of us that has worked in any corporate space, if you’re producing 5% of the capacity you’re intended to create, that’s a serious performance review discussion.”

Samushonga pointed out there is talk to change these outcomes through digital literacy, but this moves Africans back to just being consumers of technology, rather than creators.

“South Africa is asleep at the wheel because we don’t want to get busy with being specific about which particular skills can be ‘massified’ nationally, so that we can begin to export creation of technology, solve youth unemployment, solve the slow pace in the growth of the economy and have women at a table where they are creating, economically productive and able to inspire young girls to come up and live in a more equitable world.”

Filling the gaps

Statistics show 20% of women are represented in the tech industry globally, while only 1% of venture capital funding for tech start-ups goes to women.

Samushonga explained: “Tech begins its history with women predominantly being software programmers – software programming used to be women’s work. At some point, it shifted over to men.

“The travesty of the exclusion of women in a field that is increasingly impacting everything that we do is that we miss out on the perspectives, the insights, experiences and intellect of over 50% of the population in making decisions that affect not just them but everybody else.”

Launched in 2015, software development training academy WeThinkCode welcomed its first coding students in May 2016. It seeks to eliminate the digital skills shortage by developing 100 000 coders in Africa over the next 10 years.

WeThinkCode focuses on recruiting young Africans from predominantly underserved communities, with no prior coding experience. The academy also focuses on individuals with a high aptitude for coding, but who couldn’t access technical training because of lack of funds or ineligible academic results.

Samushonga indicated WeThinkCode is trying to close these gaps by focusing on getting young women into technology, specifically into software.

“Many of the pillars we start to talk about – cyber security, data analytics, AI, etc – are actually underpinned by software. If we can get young women represented in building software, we’re going to have better solutions, better economical outcomes and lift up a proportion that carries the weight of looking after communities as a society.”

For Take Note IT’s Luthuli, underrepresentation of women in SA’s ICT industry is a legacy issue, where the education system was mastered to exclude women. “South Africa is brilliant with coming up with policies. The policies are there but the execution thereof is not.

“If you look at recruitment and retention, the sad trend is that out of the 20% representation, women come into an organisation and then exit. This is because the environment is not conducive for them.

“We’re not deliberate enough to say the recruitment and retention strategy must be robust enough to the point where we question why women are exiting the tech space, take notes and try to rectify that.

“The education system and STEM – from primary school – must be emphasised. If we don’t get things right from foundation level, we’ll never get it right. These are the key things: the education system and execution of our policies,” Luthuli stressed.

Hosted by SITA, in partnership with the Department of Communications and Digital Technologies, GovTech 2023 was held under the theme: “Platform economy for digital transformation and inclusive growth.”

This year, the SITA ICT conference was hailed as the entity’s “biggest” to date, bringing together public and private sector officials, CIOs, ICT experts, C-level executives, IT directors and ICT SMMEs.