An active pursuit of solutions and opportunities is necessary to unlock the potential to boost productivity, innovation and development in the tech landscape.

Pair young graduates with senior members of the team who are passionate about nurturing technical and digital skills, and who are open to new ideas and feedback.
With knowledge and information now imperative for economic growth and greater employment opportunities, there is an increased focus on the role of learning and tech innovation to drive global competitiveness. 

According to the South African Journal of Science, “While innovation is identified as a driver for economic growth and productivity, the capacity to innovate remains low in most African countries. The globalisation of technology, however, presents new opportunities for development in developing countries”. Innovation requires investment in human capital and a highly skilled labour force, as well as the creation of infrastructure for high-technology industries, the publication adds.

The pace at which industries—and careers—are being created and developed as a result of technology is accelerating. The digital revolution is making it difficult enough for companies to keep up and maintain a focused and productive staff—but what about upskilling learners and young graduates, the workforce of the future?

It’s no secret that the education wheel turns slowly; there’s little time spent on aligning that which gets taught with what’s actually required in the workplace, formal and informal. The widening skills gap is being caused by an education system that’s out of touch with the ‘real’ skills required, particularly in information technology.
Software is everywhere, from the apps we use daily to the cars we drive, the media we consume, and how we interact with each other. And you can be sure there was a smart developer team involved in creating this technology we take for granted. Unfortunately, in the instance of tech and software development courses, the gap between what students learn and what is relevant by the time they have graduated is rather wide. There needs to be a middle ground to address this skills void if we are to maintain global relevance and competitiveness—more importantly, we owe it to future generations to give them the best opportunity to succeed and make an impact.

For role players, a core focus of their skills development agenda should be to rethink investing in people, development, education and training. An active pursuit of solutions and opportunities is necessary to unlock the potential to boost productivity, innovation and development in the tech landscape. A key challenge is that a career in this sector still remains a choice for far too few. We have to impact early learning with technology learning, and invest more in the various programmes that are reaching out to students across the country. There also needs to be greater emphasis on introducing technology as a career choice to high school pupils, with better curriculum development and real-world learning.

In order to succeed in this endeavour, there needs to be leadership and collaboration among all stakeholders including educational institutions, corporates, entrepreneurs and skills development agencies to bridge the gap and properly prepare graduates for the world of work. Companies can no longer be expected solely to render workplace skills development in the form of internships, learnerships or special graduate programmes. Productivity, performance and people development should be everyone’s responsibility.

So, how do we further prepare the aspiring and semi-skilled tech professionals out there? South Africa offers a variety of ICT and digital skills development programmes, each with a unique focus. Could our next generation of productive software developers or tech geniuses be found here? 

GirlHype is building confidence in and developing basic tech skills, closing the IT literacy and skills gap created by unequal education as well as gender bias and parity. A non-profit organisation grounded in science, technology, engineering and maths, its skills development efforts are focused on the girl child and young adult women—particularly underprivileged and under-resourced females in the Western Cape between the ages of 13 and 30.

Basic software and mobile programming classes and camps are geared toward helping these young people ignite untapped interest and stimulate potential. Participants are empowered with the basic resources, knowledge and skills to pursue academic or career opportunities in IT. “We equip girls and women with basic programming coding skills—be it software or mobile application development, problem-solving or entrepreneurial skills,” says co-founder Baratang Miya. “In developing the workforce of the future, not only do we address unequal access to opportunities but we also bridge the ICT literacy gap of learners, preparing youth for a technology-intense workplace, thereby improving their employability. Technology is advancing rapidly; it’s the fastest growing industry in the world. We need to educate our youth to fulfil current and future roles in tech.”

In a challenging economy, and with limited opportunities for further study, many underprivileged youngsters opt to start working straight out of school in order to support their families. The workplace in which they find themselves is increasingly tech-enabled, and everyone requires a base level of skills or understanding to be able to handle the work. “More than just preparing girls to cope in a technologically advanced world, the GirlHype organisation will open their minds to new opportunities and help them envision a future full of prospects that are available and ready for them,” adds Baratang.

Frustrated by the lack of employability and the poor technical skill levels of students coming out of tertiary institutions, Tania van Wyk de Vries, CEO of Infoware Studios, launched a programme called Digital Geekaship. Designed to fast-track the growth path of graduates, it focuses on three core areas: software development skills, real-world experience, and soft skills. Being a software developer herself, Van Wyk de Vries could identify and facilitate the learning of core skills that graduates require in the modern workplace.

Agile software development covers key aspects relating to the management of iterative software delivery using the agile software development methodology of Scrum. Technical software development focuses on technical skills development in a programming language of the participant’s choice, and covers software development practices and principles. Personal development includes soft skills required to be a productive team member.

“By upskilling graduates on the latest technologies, methodologies and soft skills, we enable them to work on real-world software development projects over a period of eight months and then we connect programme participants with potential employers,” says Van Wyk de Vries. The programme is open to university plus technical vocational education & training graduates and undergraduates who want to advance their technical skills development and gain real-work experience through Digital Geekaship’s internship component.

“What really sets a highly productive software development environment apart from an unproductive one is the leadership, and his or her ability to meet the developmental needs of the graduate to develop them into passionate, engaged employees,” she adds. 
With young graduates entering increasingly technologically advanced workplaces and software development careers, their full potential and productivity capacity need to be harnessed. Senior members of teams, such as project managers, need to understand which resources these entry-level professionals require. They also have a responsibility to foster meaningful relationships to enable employees to contribute productively toward improved business outcomes. 

If South Africa is to continue innovating and thereby uplifting the lives of citizens, we should be driving productivity and competitiveness. This requires the efforts of all stakeholders to improve the skills of learners and graduates, and promote careers revolving around technology. The country has the talent; we simply need to harness it.

HOW TO INCREASE PRODUCTIVITY IN TODAY’S MODERN WORKPLACE

Give management a vision
To lead software and digital teams effectively requires a knowledge vision in line with where the business as well as technology, software and digital trends are heading, in order to empower team members and anticipate knowledge and growth gaps and opportunities.

Foster relationships for a productive workplace culture
Pair young graduates with senior members of the team who are passionate about nurturing technical and digital skills, and who are open to new ideas and feedback. Positive nurturing can motivate these young employees and help them commit to the organisation’s goals.

Encourage skills development
An increase in technical skills of junior team members can help more senior employees to be more innovative and productive; juniors will be more capable doing more with less on-the-job mentoring or supervision. 

Be agile
Software and digital product development environments that have structures and processes to enable team members to adapt and grow will get the best out of its technology and people.  

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