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South Africa’s large youth population key to addressing cybersecurity skills shortages

24 Jun 2024
Manoj Puri, Chief Security Officer at Absa Group.
Manoj Puri, Chief Security Officer at Absa Group.

South Africa is grappling with a pressing challenge: a soaring demand for cybersecurity professionals coupled with a significant skills gap that poses a threat to the nation's digital security infrastructure. This paradoxical situation not only jeopardises business but also undermines the overall cybersecurity posture of the country.

The demand for cybersecurity professionals in the country has skyrocketed, driven by the rapid digitisation of businesses and the increasing sophistication of cyber threats. As companies strive to protect their sensitive data and critical systems, the need for skilled cybersecurity experts has become paramount. However, the supply of qualified professionals has failed to keep up with this demand, creating a dangerous gap in the country’s cybersecurity workforce.

According to Statistics SA, 45.5% young individuals aged 15-34 years are unemployed. It is important to note that approximately 20.4 million or 63.3% of the country’s population is constituted of the youth. The youth make up a sizeable part of the population, with a diverse range of talents, skills, and aspirations. This situation presents a unique opportunity to actively foster young talent through skills development programmes that will not only confront skills shortages, but also build a sustainable talent pool, and potentially reduce youth unemployment.

As a country that’s also battling with cybersecurity threats, we have an opportunity to achieve this through a comprehensive skills development programme geared towards equipping young people with the necessary knowledge and ability to excel in the field of cybersecurity. The programmes must focus on both theoretical and practical training, providing them with hands-on experience in dealing with real-world cyber threats.

This skills gap has far-reaching implications for our digital security landscape. Without a robust pool of cybersecurity professionals, we are vulnerable to cyber-attacks, data breaches, and other malicious activities. Moreover, the nation’s critical infrastructure, including government systems and essential services, is at risk of being compromised, potentially leading to severe consequences.

It is thus imperative for South Africa to bridge the skills gap and build a robust cybersecurity workforce. By fostering collaboration, investing in education, and training targeting the youth, we can overcome this challenge and safeguard our digital future.

I believe that investing in the development of young talent is crucial for the future of our industry and the overall security of our nation. By nurturing a new generation of cybersecurity professionals, we are not only addressing the skills shortages but also creating a safer digital environment for all.

One good example is our Cybersecurity Academy, in partnership with the Maharishi Invincibility Institute. It is a comprehensive three-year academic programme designed to provide formal technical education, practical hands-on experience, and intensive personal mastery and soft skills development to young South African talent in the field of cybersecurity. In 2023, we celebrated the graduation of 20 young individuals who went through the programme and are now part of the cybersecurity field.

We have also partnered with the Harambee Academy and UVU Africa (previously known as Cape Innovation Technology Initiative or CiTi) on various skills initiatives focused on scarce, critical and future skills. Our ultimate aim is also to provide employment to the junior software developers and data analysts in order for them to gain real industry experience through relevant projects.

To further support the growth of young talent in the cybersecurity sector, the industry should actively collaborate and involve the government as well as concerned organisations. The government of South Africa has recognised the importance of cybersecurity and has pledged its support to further enhance skills development in this field. By working together, the public and private sectors could create a robust cybersecurity ecosystem that can effectively combat cyber threats and protect the nation's digital infrastructure.

As South Africa continues to embrace digital transformation, the need for skilled cybersecurity professionals will only grow. We are committed as a Bank to nurturing young talent and addressing skills shortages in the industry. Through ongoing efforts, we continue to play a vital role in building a secure and resilient digital future for South Africa.

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