/ 14 February 2023

Technology firm Cisco is helping countries like South Africa plug the digital skills gap

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The Covid-19 pandemic turbocharged digitisation across industries, such as transport, healthcare, energy and education, and now technology company Cisco is now working on optimising the hybrid working system. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Covid-19 pandemic turbocharged digitisation across industries, such as transport, healthcare, energy and education, and now technology company Cisco is now working on optimising the hybrid working system.

At its Cisco Live conference in Amsterdam, Netherlands, recently the company said it was evolving from digitising manual processes to focusing on experience and automation, in order to free up time and increase productivity.

The year ahead presents many challenges including security risks which are increasing exponentially, partly due to geopolitical turmoil, said Wendy Mars, president of Cisco’s Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

“The economy is challenged in many of our countries and we have inflation at 40-year highs. We also have an energy crisis that we’re trying to manage as citizens, and within our businesses, while feeling the increased pressure on sustainability,” Mars said.

Despite these challenges, including the supply chain, Mars said the company needed to focus on the growing digital skills gap. Cisco announced a 10-year goal for the EMEA region to upskill 10 million people in the digital and cybersecurity space, under the Cisco Networking Academy.

Three million will be trained in Africa, Reem Asaad, vice president, Cisco Middle East and Africa told the Mail & Guardian.

“The youth of today will be the green engineers of tomorrow. We need engineers with new skill sets to build solar panels and wind turbines, sustainability offices and become new energy analysts,” Asaad said.

On the African continent, Cisco first launched its country digital acceleration programme in South Africa, followed by Egypt.

“We started in South Africa because it has the greatest short-term promise for growth and opportunity. We opened our Edge centre there that is not dedicated to just training and education but mentorship and managerial consulting to help small businesses flourish,” its global innovation officer Guy Diedrich said.

“The challenge in South Africa is how to take an already young, agile, well-educated and ambitious population and give them a pathway to success.”

Cisco says about 45% of the world remains unconnected and Africa would be a big part of the equation in trying to tackle that.

“We would lift 500 million people out of poverty and, at the same time, contribute $6.7 trillion to the global GDP,” Diedrich said. “It’s not just the ethical and moral thing to do, it’s also the economically prudent thing to do in the digital age.”

Hybrid work 

Hybrid work is still an experiment which is difficult and different from how people have worked over the last couple of years, Cisco says.

Companies need to rethink employee experiences, workspaces and the new security attacks which seem to be expanding, said Javed Khan, general manager at Cisco Collaboration.

“It requires a holistic approach across networking, security, collaborative software and hardware — that is the future of work,” Khan said, adding that the solution lies in reimagining workspaces in the home or office; optimising collaboration across an ecosystem to enable new types of interaction and making sure the enterprise is protected.

Cybersecurity is a big factor in hybrid work, said Asaad, citing Cisco’s 2022 Consumer Security Survey which showed that nearly 37% of users had no idea what multi-factor authentication is, and worryingly, about half got their security advice from family and friends.

“The level of aptitude when it comes to security is a concern but we’re seeing more cybersecurity trends in our region, which is very security conscientious; there’s a big need for it,” Asaad said.

Working with the government

Cisco has a team working closely with the South African government to understand and promote policy shaping around cybersecurity policies, data sovereignty and data privacy.

“We operate in over 90 countries and can bring our expertise and experience in how we help other governments in shaping their policies to safeguard their countries,” said Asaad.

“South Africa has a lot of power-shedding issues so we’re trying to work with the government and its entities, like Eskom, to help build a reliable network with more business continuity to not have additional challenges besides power challenges.”

The Cisco Networking Academy, launched at the South African State Information Technology Agency in 2010, has since trained over 1.5 million people, over a third of them women.

In the Middle East and Africa region, South Africa has the highest percentage of female participation, with 46% enrolling for courses in IT, cybersecurity and the internet of things, Asaad said.