Eastern Cape Innovation hub unlocks growth and recovery for unemployed youth

The Eastern Cape Provincial Government in partnership with Microsoft South Africa – and implementation partners the Eastern Cape Socio-Economic Consultative Council (ECSECC), the National Electronic Media Institute of South Africa (Nemisa), Walter Sisulu University and non-profit Afrika Tikkun – have launched a Digital Skills Virtual Innovation Hub, a first in the province. This hub forms part of an empowerment partnership to develop critical digital skills and build the ICT capability of individuals and small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

Ultimately, these skills will drive broader efforts to build a digital economy that will help unlock inclusive growth for the region and better enable economic recovery.South Africa continues to face the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality – and the Eastern Cape is not immune to these realities. The province currently has one of the highest unemployment rates at 43.8 percent – with the majority of those unemployed being youth, especially from rural and underserved areas.

“While the emerging digital economy presents enormous opportunities, the socio-economic challenges of our province impede access to these opportunities and prevent citizens from participating actively in this economy underpinned by digital transformation,” says Eastern Cape Premier, Honourable Oscar Mabuyane.

Therein lies the challenge: finding sustainable ways to bridge the digital skills gap.

The Digital Skills Virtual Innovation Hub takes a multi-pronged, cross-sectoral approach to digital skilling: it is made up of various building blocks and priority projects to drive skills development from basic digital literacy, to deep technical skills for individuals and SMMEs.

· Young people in the province will be targeted through a basket of multi-sectoral technology, broadband and infrastructure priority projects as part of the Virtual Skills Innovation Hub. Microsoft’s Global Skilling Initiative, for instance, will provide digital skills courses, certification and resources from LinkedIn, GitHub, and Microsoft to help young job seekers move to a skills-based economy by reskilling themselves to pursue in-demand jobs.

· Selected partners will also provide training required by the province for up to 100 interns as part of the Microsoft Internship Programme, which is a job creation initiative geared towards delivering in-demand technology skills to unemployed youth.

·Ten schools in the province, with a focus on 10 teachers and 10 Grade 10 learners from each school, have already been selected to participate in a Digital Schools Initiative – which features a workshop designed around the Microsoft Education Transformation Framework. This helps leaders in education develop the strategies to help young students of today navigate the ever-evolving world of learning and work.

· As part of the Train the Trainer Programme of the Microsoft AI University Programme, Microsoft has also trained representatives from Walter Sisulu university to address the demand for Artificial Intelligence skills in South Africa. The programme has been designed to pass on the future skills employers need by teaching young multi-disciplined graduates with limited or no work experience to explore, transform, model, and visualise data, and create the next generation of intelligent solutions.

· Recognising that local adoption of next-generation solutions and services has significant potential for job creation – particularly around the growing importance of cloud services – and the need for impactful learning platforms that are open to everyone, Microsoft has also developed a local landing page of its Cloud Society for the province’s citizens, and develop and deploy Cloud Society in a Box for the province to provide training, certification opportunities, and face-to-face engagement opportunities with Microsoft cloud experts. These resources will be available via the ECSECC website on www.ecsecc.org.

“Equipping young people with critical digital skills is essential to get them employed or self-employed – but it is equally important to invest in SMMEs, which are engines of economic growth and job creation,” says Lillian Barnard, Chief Executive Officer at Microsoft South Africa. This is why, as part of the partnership with the Eastern Cape provincial government, 16 Black-owned and Black women-owned ICT SMMEs have been identified and will receive training to be certified as Microsoft Gold Partners as part of the Emerging Partner Programme.

“By lowering entry barriers to SMMEs in priority sectors like Agriculture, Health, Education, and Disaster Management and accelerating their journey to Gold partner status, we will help grow a sustainable, diversified, and inclusive supply chain that contributes more broadly to economic growth in South Africa,” says Barnard.

Baphelele Mhlaba, adds, “This partnership with Microsoft will assist in making sure that we bridge two divides: inequality in the education and literacy space, as well as inequalities created by the lack of access to digital literacy platforms. Creating an opportunity for the people of the province to access world-class training content and courses at no cost will enable a citizenry that is equipped with the relevant skills to be active participants in the economy.”

The result: inclusive growth and economic recovery

Ultimately, digital skills are the backbone of future growth and recovery – making it critical to invest in building these capabilities in the areas that need it most.

“Digital transformation is unfolding at a high pace. The digital economy is a reality. For anyone to be relevant in the modern world, they need to know how to navigate the digital economy and be an active participant in it,” says Mabuyane.

“Our goal of forging important partnerships like this with the public sector is to build South Africa’s ICT capability to navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution and help South Africans create new ways to address issues of unemployment, poverty, equity, sustainability, and global competitiveness,” says Barnard.

The successful implementation of the Digital Skills Virtual Innovation Hub in the Eastern Cape will see the framework being rolled out in other provinces across the country, with three to five more planned in the next financial year.

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