Most of us have seen the statistics: South Africa’s dismal unemployment rate has been sitting at around the 30% mark for a decade, with the latest figures indicating that 34,5% of people in the country are sitting at home without work. The youth are the hardest hit, with 63,9% of those aged 15-24 being unemployed, and 42,1% of those aged 25-34 years.
This stands to reason, as many experts believe that the country’s leading cause of unemployment is inadequate education and training for specific job roles. As greater adoption of technology changes in-demand skills across jobs, this situation is bound to get worse without the right kind of intervention.
Recognising this, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Samsung South Africa set about creating the Future-Innovation Lab. The purpose of this collaboration was to enable technological education and empowerment, and provide previously disadvantaged students with a world-class Software Development Skills Training Programme. A vital component of this initiative involved the active participation of Neil van Wyngaard, an Automation Architect at iOCO, who closely collaborated with UWC and Samsung to impart his expertise and mentor students in the realm of RPA and Automation. Now entering its fourth year, the Future-Innovation Lab has successfully produced a multitude of graduates specializing in technical roles such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA), a substantial number of whom have secured permanent employment with iOCO.
Growing the right skills – A World Economic Forum study predicted that machines and algorithms in the workplace could add up to 58 million new jobs in the next few years. In addition, AI, robotics and other forms of smart automation have the potential to bring great economic benefits, contributing up to $15 trillion to global GDP by 2030.
RPA is one of the technologies that is fast changing the face of the modern workplace, with 70%-80% of typical rules-based processes benefitting from automation. In light of the fact that between now and 2027, businesses predict that 44% of workers’ core skills will be disrupted due to technology moving faster than companies can design and scale up their training programmes, RPA has become a key part of the curriculum at the Future-Innovation Lab.
The entire programme has been designed to not only provide a comprehensive technology-focused curriculum, but to also provide students with the kinds of competences that will be key to the jobs of the future. Our graduates are therefore also gaining key skills such as analytical thinking, creative thinking and an understanding of AI and big data.
Keeping up on the world stage – While the curriculum has been developed according to international standards, and we have certainly producing world-class skills through the programme, South Africa still has a way to go to become a world leader in RPA. A number of our students did extremely well at the recent BRICS Future Skills Challenge, but the Chinese delegation were miles ahead.
A competition for the youth from BRICS countries, the BRICS Future Skills Challenge covered topics like Robotic Process Automation (RPA), agri IOT, cyber security, data science, and mobile app development, to name a few. Following a rigorous judging process, the top 15 competitors from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa pitched their concepts in a Dragon’s Den set-up, with five experts on the panel for each area deciding on the winning concept.
Our delegates did us proud, winning silver and bronze medals. However, it quickly became clear that the Chinese took the competition far more seriously. Their delegation was made up of people who had participated in regional and national competitions to identify the best of the best. It was therefore no surprise that the Chinese won in most of their categories.
Considering that China has almost 2000 universities and South Africa has less than 30, we have to ensure that we pursue a culture of excellence to ensure we remain competitive on the global stage. Programmes like the Future-Innovation Lab will therefore become more important to ensuring South Africa has access to the skills it needs as we continue to move into a digital future.