By Nashid Cassiem, Operations General Manager at redAcademy

Digitisation and technology are widely regarded as having the potential to spur economic growth, with opportunities for youth in digital jobs a key consideration for their own career sprint. This is true, and spoken about often, but the truth is that unless all stakeholders act intentionally now, we’ll still be having this conversation in many years’ time instead of having made real progress.

There is a cross-functional responsibility between government, the private sector and tertiary education institutions to ensure that South Africa’s youth  are prepared to take advantage of the massive employment opportunities in technology broadly, and software development specifically. 

We have found that many of our youth, while comfortable using technology, have little understanding of software development and how it underpins almost every aspect of our digital lives. While disappointing now, it presents a massive opportunity to change things to the benefit of young people and our economy. 

To make a difference on a national scale may sound daunting, but there can be massive strides if each and every stakeholder – no matter where they fit in the bigger picture – takes the lead in their sphere of influence to increase the size of the skills pool. This is exactly what we are doing at redAcademy, reaching out to young people at a matric level to introduce the opportunities offered in IT and the software development industry. 

All of us involved in the value chain, at every level, should ask ourselves how we can deliberately expose, motivate, share and teach our youth. 

What South Africa’s youth and tertiary educators can do to fast track young people into software development careers

While Bachelor degrees at mainstream universities and colleges serve an important purpose, they are not the only route to a successful career in software development. Holistic learning opportunities, such as those taught at redAcademy can fast-track a career in the industry, by offering a blended approach to learning with a focus on experiential learning, and young people need to be prepared to take advantage of such opportunities. Two of the main characteristics we look for in our teams are commitment and passion accompanied by an interest in software development. 

This is where educators and learners can change the game. There are a wealth of resources available online, many of which are open source, and it is of utmost importance that young people and their educators familiarise themselves with these resources and explore the various, but relevant coding languages.

Beyond the important coding skills that a young person requires to enter the IT industry they must embody a culture of accountability, resilience and be creative problem-solvers. Certainly from redAcademy’s perspective, these are the traits that give matric leavers the edge entering the software world. Learning and development during the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) involves more than just the lecture hall  and studying – it goes without saying that it requires practical application that includes research, self-learning, completing digital exercises and building web applications and in doing so, creating artefacts that can be used as a portfolio of evidence for future employment.

It may appear as though this is unnecessary extra work. However, it is crucial because the world is not an easy place. Many young people, including those who study for degrees at formal learning institutions, are just not equipped with coping mechanisms to deal with the rough and tumble of the real world. Setting a goal, seeing it through, being resilient and meticulously working through real software development programmes while still at school sets learners apart. 

What government and private sector stakeholders do to fast-track young people into the IT skills pool

Longer term, what is being taught in tertiary education institutions and what is being used in the real world has to be aligned. The digitisation of the education system does not only mean moving classes online, one can teach outdated material using digital tools. The digitisation of the education system in this context means that young people are taught theory and an appropriate degree of practical skills that are relevant for the 4IR as technology evolves at breakneck speed – which is quite the opposite of the education system. 

In the private sector, businesses need to look within their areas of influence and decide how they can support growing the skills base. The truth is that this is not an activity of goodwill only – It is about long-term survival and future-proofing the software development industry that will continue becoming more and more central to almost every aspect of the digital economy.

The future is digital

There is an exciting world out there that is desperate for new skills. Many stakeholders are actively going into communities and finding high-potential learners and exposing them to software development, even if only to light the fire of curiosity. This is important because opportunity can change lives.

The take-home message for young people should be: Think about stories we read about successful entrepreneurs or young people who climbed the career ladder to achieve great success. While we see the end result, and celebrate the possibility, appreciate that behind those success narratives are stories about resilience, passion, failure, disappointment, and a continual-learning mindset. Start today – read up about software development. Learn as much as you can. Take advantage of free / open source online learning resources. Attend talks and workshops and involve your educators. With this, you will be laying the foundation upon which you will build your software development career.