Q&A: Developing digital skills for Africa’s future job market

South African educator Debbie Schäfer, a former member of the National Assembly, provides insight on how governments and private enterprises can empower the workforce with critical skills for the era of digital transformation.

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Business leaders around the world face a shortage of IT talent and the problem is most acute in developing economies, where the gap between enterprise tech requirements and the digital skills of the current workforce is particularly wide.

As a result, with digital transformation accelerating among enterprises internationally, governments across Africa are grappling with how best to equip working age populations with the digital skills appropriate for the future of work, and how to work with private enterprise to do so.

South Africa is taking a leading role in government initiatives for building digital skills, for example under programs led by the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and skills development for the job market of the future was a  theme at the recent AfricaCom tech conference in Cape Town.

“We've put an extra focus on the issue by looking at facilitating the access to free internet at schools within the province. Investing in smart classrooms is critical. We are promoting digital coding and robotics in schools wherever possible and we actually have about 80 coding clubs in the Western Cape as a result,” said Debbie Schäfer, Western Cape Provincial Education Minister and a former member of the National Assembly, at the event. Aside from general tools like the Microsoft Office suite, some of the programming tools and languages students learn at coding clubs across the province include JavaScript, Python, Scratch, Alice, Ruby, HTML, and Delphi CSS, 

CIO did a follow up interview with Schäfer to get insights on the sort of skills required in today’s economy, and how private enterprise can complement government efforts, from someone on the front lines of educating the workforce of tomorrow. Edited excerpts follow:

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