The world had its eyes on the recent BRICS summit, in part because the existing BRICS nations encompass a population of 3.5 billion, accounting for a substantial segment of global emerging markets, and partly because the addition of the six new member countries will bring almost half the world’s population under the bloc’s umbrella. Not only does BRICS represent massive growth opportunities, particularly when it comes to economic growth, the fact that most of the BRICS countries boast young populations has placed them in a position to take up leadership roles in the future – if they can develop the right skills.
This is the purpose of the BRICS Future Skills Challenge, a multi-day online Skills Olympics allowing BRICS youth to come together to show how future skills will solve some of humanity’s most critical challenges. This year’s focus areas were energy, water and health, with hundreds of young people from BRICS countries showcasing innovative ideas to solve today’s problems using tomorrow’s technologies.
In its sixth year, the BRICS Future Skills Challenge was hosted by South Africa from the 12th to the 15th of September 2023, and 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.
Local talent, global contenders – Neil Van Wyngaard, Solutions Architect at iOCO Digital and one of the Dragons in the RPA category of the competition, says that the winners not only showcased their country’s talents, but received real-world experience and access to industry leaders and potential employers. “The young people participating in the BRICS Future Skills Challenge have already proved themselves to be outstanding in their fields. The finalists were chosen based on the effectiveness of their solutions, as well as their scores throughout the competition, and we saw many innovative answers to the problems we posed,” he says.
“The South African delegates have established themselves as global contenders, showcasing inventive thinking and strong technical capabilities during the workshops leading up to the final challenge. In fact, we won more medals this year than ever before, taking home a number of silver and bronze medals. This not only proves that we have what it takes to win, but that the digital future of South Africa is in safe hands.”
Van Wyngaard adds that in his experience training young people, South Africans have the capabilities to become world leaders in technologies like RPA. A partnership between iOCO, the University of the Western Cape and Samsung has produced over 100 graduates in the field, many of whom have been employed by iOCO and are already making a difference among local businesses.
“Access to skills like RPA is becoming essential for businesses, and will become even more so in the future. The BRICS Future Skills Challenge is a great way for local students to gain international experience. This year, they saw first-hand how seriously other countries are taking the competition, and how much further South Africa needs to go to win in the future. China, for example, brought the best of the best the country offers, choosing delegates from winners of regional and national competitions – all of whom performed well, using all of the tools they had available to them, with some even going as far as using green screens and 3D renderings in their presentations,” he says.
Van Wyngaard, together with Christiaan Kriel, Business Unit Executive of Automation at iOCO, helped score the finalists in the RPA category of the BRICS Future Skills Challenge. Two of the top three positions were taken by the Chinese, with a South African close behind them. The winner was Shiyu Guo. The other eleven finalists were Xueming Guo (China), Luyanda Mlala (South Africa), Yiwen Li (China), Yulu Wang (China), Jing Ya Xu (China), Luxolo Funde (South Africa), Lauren Fisher (South Africa), Ramashita Ramutloa (South Africa), Pengcheng Jiang (China), Rahdee Salie (South Africa) and William Sonnenberg (South Africa).
Preparing for the digital future – President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted the importance of this competition in his closing remarks to the BRICS Conference, stating that it enhances our progress as a country. “Through these interactions, we exchange information, skills, technology and experience,” he said.
With thousands of attendees ranging from industry experts from critical sectors, multinational company representatives, the global public and government representatives from around the BRICS nations, the Future Skills Challenge 2023 provided a valuable opportunity for South African youth to establish themselves on the world stage. “This event is a great way for parents and youth to prepare for the jobs of the future, helping to identify what skills are needed – and will be needed – in each sector. It’s time for South Africa to stop playing catch-up, and I am proud to have been able to participate in an event that is helping us start planning for the digital future,” Van Wyngaard concludes.
iOCO – Established to simplify ICT, iOCO is Africa’s leading integrated technology services company, with the largest concentration of skills on the continent. As a Level 1 B-BBEE end-to-end ICT managed service provider and Cloud systems integrator, iOCO operates with over 20 years’ experience. Its team of more than 4500 specialists delivers Open Digital Integrator, Enterprise Applications, Data and Analytics, Compute and Platforms, and Manage and Operate solutions to over 1 000 customers.