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Only tech can resolve SA's unemployment crisis

By , Contributor
South Africa , 07 Jun 2024
Zuko Mdwaba, Salesforce Africa's area vice president, takes the stage at Salesforce's World Tour Essentials in Johannesburg.
Zuko Mdwaba, Salesforce Africa's area vice president, takes the stage at Salesforce's World Tour Essentials in Johannesburg.

Technology leaders have urged South Africans to embrace artificial intelligence (AI) and automation systems in order to tackle the country's unemployment, which has reached above 19 million joblessness.

Various tech leaders converged at Salesforce’s World Tour Essentials event in Johannesburg on Thursday to share their opinion on what emerging technologies and skills development methodologies needed to be implemented in order to reverse the jobs crisis in South Africa.

Salesforce South Africa's senior talent programme manager, Ursula Fear, said: "We need to act urgently to mitigate the fact that we don't want to have too many certified yet unemployable young people entering the workforce. Importing talent is not a long-term solution and we cannot extend the contracts of those who enter the country to fix the problem now.

“We need to upskill locally and ensure that we have the talent to take the vital technology sector, which contributes about 8% to the economy, to the next level."

According to Salesforce research, more than 60% of full-time desk workers in the country did not have the skills to use generative AI technology – even though most of them are convinced this knowledge would advance their careers.

Fear stated that training the next generation, as well as reskilling the current generation with AI skills was a key component to the tech revolution.

"South Africa requires a mindset change, and the government cannot address the skills crisis alone. It requires collaboration and partnership from the business sector to form long-term solutions that tangibly address the existing digital skills gap by providing youth with hands-on experience," she said.

"Education and tertiary certifications form a critical component of empowering our current and future ICT workforce, but what is truly needed is the provision of hands-on experience and mentorship to sustainably develop leaders and entrepreneurs of the future and grow the South African economy."

The Salesforce executive noted that layoffs, regardless of the sector, have been eyed as a way of navigating uncertain economic times by big business.

Speaking at the same event, Keletso Mpisane, head of Insurtech Blink by MiWay, said that embracing tech is the best way to create opportunities.

"As a technology first business, we highly value the right digital skills and appreciate that what encompasses digital and tech skills is constantly being expanded, along with digital innovation," Mpisane said.

Echoing the same sentiments, Andrew Bourne, head of the Africa region at Zoho, said, "The right tech tools, at the right price can support digital literacy and develop the ICT skills South Africa needs".

He added: "We need to future-proof children so that they are equipped to apply for jobs that require digital and development skills. With low-code platforms, for example, citizen developers can create complex and powerful business applications without requiring costly and lengthy training. Most low-code application development can be managed with users who only have moderate technical knowledge."

According to Stats SA, the current official unemployment rate stands at 32.9 % (about 19 million unemployed people), an increase of 0.8 of a percentage point in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the fourth quarter of 2023.

South Africa's ICT sector is currently facing a massive hiring slowdown, with recruitment declining by 11% year-on-year, compared to the first quarter of 2023. This is according to the latest CareerJunction Employment Insights report, gathered from Saongroup South Africa, which works with over 5 000 of SA's top recruiters.

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