/ 25 June 2019

Youth need skills for the fourth industrial revolution

We need a future-ready curriculum that speaks to the increasingly technology-driven economy and learners require proficiency in science, technology, engineering, maths (Stem) and digital literacy. (Oupa Nkosi/M&G)
Oupa Nkosi/M&G


There is a whole world of career prospects for the highly skilled out there. The youth will have to work hard, but the older generation needs to show them the way, to advise on the needs of the country’s future and create opportunities for learning, growth and livelihoods.

The youth unemployment rate in South Africa is staggering, and increased from 54.7% in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 55.2% in the first quarter of 2019. The unemployment rate is highest among people aged 15 to 34, according to Statistics South Africa.

Furthermore, the 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) report, The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa, stated that sub-Saharan Africa has a global share of high-skilled employment of only 6%, in contrast to the global average of 24%. It is forecast that with the impending disruption to jobs and skills brought about by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), 39% of core skills required across occupations in South Africa will be wholly different by 2020.

There is a tremendous burden on our education system to prepare school leavers for an uncertain future. Urgent reskilling and upskilling efforts are needed for higher education and adult learning curriculums. But, we have the opportunity to start much younger.

For this we need a future-ready curriculum that speaks to the increasingly technology-driven economy and learners require proficiency in science, technology, engineering, maths (Stem) and digital literacy. Currently, according to the WEF, South Africa scores second to last for quality of Africa’s education systems.

With these numbers, it’s not difficult to see why the young people of our country have become discouraged with the labour market and are not building on their skills base through education and training — they are not in employment, education or training.

Stats SA says “the unemployment rate among the youth is higher irrespective of education level”, but we beg to differ. In the debate about youth unemployment, the role of education is crucial — access to education is a precondition for access to opportunities.

We should not just be teaching for intelligence quotient (but also emotional quotient. We should be teaching to develop character, confidence, critical thinking and creativity. We should be teaching in a way that encourages a joy for learning and discovery, and instils a love for Stem subjects.

Early childhood development (ECD) is a fundamental part of education, and for this reason it is the first stepping stone in the model initiated by nonprofit organisation Afrika Tikkun called Cradle to Career 360, this model is designed to produce school leavers prepared to be productive and participating citizens.

There is ample research to suggest that children who participate in quality ECD programmes have higher levels of cognitive development and are better prepared to learn when they enter primary school. Afrika Tikkun’s youth and career development programmes acknowledge that when young people choose Stem subjects in their secondary and tertiary studies, the earlier they develop an interest, the better. Competency in Stem subjects and the ability to be self-directed are not only powerful competencies in the 4IR, but essential for survival. They give children a path of hope and they subsequently have better employment prospects.

At Afrika Tikkun, post-matric graduates are trained in coding, web design, network security and computer literacy. But people require more than a connection to scientific knowledge; they also require things like smartphones, tablets and access to the internet. With the help of our partners, among them Internet Solutions, Work Online and Vox, Afrika Tikkun can provide well-equipped computer labs with fast internet connectivity.

Increasing the number of technologically trained youth is also vital to our economic landscape and the future of our society.

Although science is a male dominated industry, Afrika Tikkun believes that young girls should pursue careers in science.

How can they be inspired to enter Stem fields? We need successful women in science to share their stories and encourage an appetite for it. We need to talk in a way that encourages curiosity and hooks them. We need to motivate a sense, among boys and girls, that science and technology, engineering and maths is for everyone.

Onyi Nwaneri is head of partnerships and marketing at Afrika Tikkun, a nonprofit organisation founded in 1994 with the goal of uplifting underprivileged young people