According to Stats SA, South Africa’s unemployment rate is particularly high for young people. For those aged between 15 and 34, 38.2%, or one in three, didn’t have jobs in the first quarter. In a recent Daily Maverick article, the high unemployment rate is explained, at least partially, by the disjuncture “between the skills distribution in our society and the skills distribution that our economy seems to need”. The article continues by stating that any “sustainable solution to our unemployment crisis will need a big improvement in our education system”. Yes, this is 100% true, but what should this improvement in the education system look like?
Riaz Moola, dubbed the Steve Jobs of Africa, started HyperionDev, a UK and South African-based startup, known for building the largest online coding bootcamp in Africa and scaling it internationally to 40 countries, outlines a variety of key educational strategies to reduce South Africa’s indefensibly high unemployment rates.
Tech disproportionately contributes to a country’s economy
The Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organisation based in Washington, states that digital technologies are critical in determining the economic growth and international competitiveness of a country. “Bearing in mind that tech disproportionately contributes to a country’s economy,” says Moola, “we have to concentrate on technical skills development, particularly programming skills.”
Cyril Ramaphosa’s latest SONA confirms this. Among other interventions,, Ramaphosa wants to see:
- The creation of new jobs to absorb youth in productive economic activity, particularly in tech-related fields – e.g. coding and data analytics.
- The training of both educators and learners who are equipped to deal with emerging technologies, such as the Internet of Things, robotics, artificial intelligence, etc.
- The introduction of new technology subjects, including technical mathematics and technical sciences.
To reduce the high youth unemployment rate, it’s imperative that SA private and public institutions focus on in-demand tech skills.
Barriers to entry when it comes to tech education
There are two factors to bear in mind here:
Non-traditional educational paths: To lower barriers to entry, non-traditional education paths, like online learning, need to be embraced. It’s no good just relying on traditional routes like universities or technikons to teach young South Africans global in-demand tech skills – it’s too expensive and there isn’t sufficient institutional supply.
However, if tech education provision happens via the online route, you need to ensure that people with limited internet access, a reality in South Africa, can still become programmers. Online or remote tech courses need to be designed and mentored with these technological limitations in mind.
Reduce drop-out rates: Moola’s motivation for starting HyperionDev stemmed from witnessing the depressing dropout rates in South African universities in Computer Science degrees. “With an average failure rate of 88%,” says Moola, “I couldn’t see South Africa meeting its tech demands and I wanted to change that. It’s crucial to offer personalised mentor support with tech courses. Students get stuck and frustrated if there isn’t an available expert they can consult.” There is no point offering a tech course if students are not sufficiently supported throughout their studies via code reviewing process.
Code review needs to focus on:
- Documentation – coding in a way developers understand
- Style – mastering rapidly-changing coding conventions
- Efficiency – implementing effective algorithms for specific problems
- Completeness – not leaving holes in your code
Seamless integration into employment
A recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report outlines a number of proposed changes for South Africa to ignite growth and reduce poverty. A key factor mentioned includes the need to align “training with business needs to help increase employment over time, particularly that of the youth”. Ideally, educational institutions, whether online or face-to-face, need to integrate their graduates into relevant careers.
HyperionDev achieves this via extensive career support and guidance, including technical CV review and specialised preparation for tech interviews. Direct referral to hiring partners and internship placement also happens. The result: within six months of graduating, most students have switched to a new career.
In conclusion, young people make up the majority of South Africa’s population – 35.7% of the total population of 57.7 million people are under the age of 34, and many millions of these people struggle daily with education and employment opportunities. South Africa’s youth unemployment rate can be partially reversed by providing high-quality tech education via non-traditional routes.