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Cisco gets aggressive with efforts to bridge Africa’s skills deficit

Hani Raad.
Hani Raad.

Africa’s deficit in available sought-after technology skill sets is alarming and there is a need for increased investment in initiatives to narrow the gap.

This is according to Hani Raad, Managing Director of Cisco Sub-Saharan Africa, who confirmed in December 2022 that the demand for certified technology skills in Africa is increasing and so the company is working on an initiative out of South Africa to encourage certification and increase enrolment at its Network Academy across key markets over the next five years.

It’s one of the skill building endeavours that Cisco is working on to help deliver on objectives the company outlined in October last year, which is to provide digital skills training to 25 million learners over the next ten years through its Cisco Networking Academy programme.

The company said that by 2025, 97 million new jobs will be created due to advances in technology and automation and it wants to help people access those jobs through education and exposure to career opportunities.

Raad said there is a wide spectrum of skills required in Africa and on top of this initiative, Cisco is also positioning a skills development and support programme focused on high-end skills and professionals already in the market.

“There is a huge spectrum of skills requirements, but where we target the CIEs, CODs, security professionals, design professionals and so on, we have an aggressive plan coming up where we are coming in to support them. We are talking internally with our teams to see how we can set this up.”

According to Cisco, during its 2022 fiscal year, more than 345,000 people were enrolled in Cisco Networking Academy courses across 50 countries in the region. These students were supported by approximately 2,427 instructors, working across 906 academies in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Many of these people were trained in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. In Nigeria, the programme has upskilled 411,194 people, in South Africa, 189,272 people benefitted from the programme, and in Kenya, 104,978 people received digital skills training.

Raad said company has always promoted certification and enrolment, but has now tabled an aggressive plan that is based on specific targets and deliverables.

“Usually now we take registration, we promote certification and people will sign up and we go from there. But when you say you want to target five hundred people in three years, with a specific certification, that’s another direction, that’s by far much more aggressive. It accelerates to bridge a gap rather than just promoting things to bridge a gap.”

Running parallel to the company’s aggressive plan is its desire to leverage its business incubation programme or Cisco EDGE (Experience, Design, Go-to-Market, Earn) Incubation Centre concept in Africa.

The company describes it as “a great example of a local, grassroots initiative that aims to share business knowledge, speed up entry to market and, and ultimately create new jobs for the local economy.”

EDGE to empower small business

Cisco EDGE is designed to incubate partners and help develop SMEs and SMMEs, said Raad. “We also hope to capture additional traction in small business or small companies that eventually work together with Cisco in enabling the market to deliver more.”

The company has allocated a budget to accelerate expansion of the EDGE centres to the rest of Africa.

Raad said there are currently several in South Africa and Nigeria, and the intention is to expand to regions like Kenya.

The company added that given the skills shortage challenge, managed service offerings that cover network, cloud, and endpoint security, as well as fully staffed security operation centres (SOCs) are becoming more popular with organisations.

Cisco EDGE launched a cybersecurity specialisation cohort across South Africa, and has certified 11 SMMEs as Cisco Express Security partners.

Conrad Steyn, CTO and Head of Engineering for Sub-Saharan Africa at Cisco, said, “Africa has a shortage of required security skills. According to the 2022 Africa Cyber Security Outlook survey by KPMG, nearly two out of three responding enterprises reported having trouble recruiting and retaining qualified cyber professionals. This is amidst a surge in cybersecurity across all sectors to the point that, there are an estimated three million cybersecurity job vacancies globally, which is expected to grow to 10 million in the near future.”

According to Steyn what elevates the severity of this shortage is the fact that cyber attackers and malicious actors continue to set their sights on Africa.

He said Interpol’s Africa Cyberthreat Assessment Report shows that the agency’s partner company Trend Micro recorded more than 679 million email threat detections, 8.2 million file threat detections, and 14.3 million web threat detections between January 2020 and February 2021.

At the same time, the report found over 90% of businesses operate without proper security protocols.

“Made up of countries with unique legislative and technical complexities, Africa is set back by limited investment. While there is definite progress in countries such as South Africa, Kenya, Egypt and Nigeria, in terms of attracting investment, the rollout creates inequities and places these nations ahead of others. Though also continually growing, the still limited number of data centres impacts the continent’s overall level of data residency and retention. Meanwhile, next to all the opportunities it creates, remote and hybrid working has introduced new challenges to organisations devising the ideal security strategy. As more and more employees work from different locations and become more reliant on Software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, the security perimeter expands, and existing gaps widen."

Cyber attackers are cognisant of this, and as such, organisations need to take extra steps to protect their networks, added Steyn.

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