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Reskilling for the Future: GirlCode Hackathon at 22 Sloane


Last week, the quarterly labour force survey, conducted by Statistics SA, revealed that the unemployment rate rose to 27.2% in the second quarter, from 26.7% in the first three months of this year. This equates to 6.1 million people without jobs in the three months till the end of June, compared to 6 million in the previous quarter, with the manufacturing sector being the main contributor to job losses.

If we add discouraged job seekers, the expanded unemployment rate rose by 0.5% to 37.2% of the working age population, or some 9.6 million people. The number of people between the ages of 15 and 34 that are not undergoing education or training, or are not employed, increased by 0.4% year-on-year to reach 39.3%, or four people out of ten. At 33.6%, the unemployment rate for young people aged between 25 and 34 is more than double that of the 45 to 54 year-old category, which stands at 16%. This basically means that over 5 million young people are unemployed in South Africa.

The Problems

I have identified five potential causal effects of why many young people are unemployed.

  1. Unable to settle for less: The dynamics of the world today have changed drastically. Social media is now the BFF of the youth, as they constantly share, explore and ultimately discover how some of their successful peers are living and they want that too – and immediately. Now school graduates often scoff at an entry intern job that could pay around R5000pm. They believe they should earn higher and ‘live larger’, with expensive apartments, cars and smartphones. This scenario is the antithesis of the lives their parents lived – with a steady job, working their way to the top. I cast my mind back to my first job in 2007 as a shoe-shiner, earning R1500 (USD$150) per month at a hotel. Today’s youth probably wouldn’t be seen dead doing that…
  2. Mismatch between available jobs and skills: There is a significant mismatch between the skills obtained by young people and the available jobs that suit those skills. The youth want the easy way in. For example, they study public relations or marketing, etc. and are unaware that the real world of work needs different skill-sets. Our youth should research courses with the best probability of job opportunity, while our education system should gear-up and re-channel resources to focus on key skills that the global and local economy need.
  3. Lack of targeted entrepreneurial programmes: Most entrepreneurial programmes still focus on teaching business basics, such as taxation, finance, and marketing. Yes, this is crucial for business success, but should go hand-in-hand with developing critical skills and scaling for young people. Focus should also be on technical expertise. 
  4. Lack of entrepreneurial financial risk appetite: Most funding agencies claim to have loads of seed cash to fund entrepreneurs, but the reality is different on the ground. Many quickly lose the risk appetite to invest in innovative start-ups, as they still require historical financials, which most of the start-ups cannot provide, severely limiting their capability to compete in the market.
  5. Lack of big business commitment: Any big business feels threatened by the rise of start-ups in their industry, so they will try to avoid creating a competitor for the future. They’ll probably pay lip service that they support start-ups, but ultimately will do everything in their power to limit the threat of a competitive start-up.

The Solution

Every year during August, which is Women’s Month, GirlCode invites all female programmers to enter the GirlCode Hackathon which takes place at 22 on Sloane, a 48-hour non-stop programming challenge. The hackathon is open to all females who would like to work collaboratively to create a website, game, or mobile app that addresses a selected real-world challenge.

This past weekend, GirlCode hosted over 200 girls aged between 18 and 35 for the hackathon. At most of the hackathons, the main incentives are small cash prizes and bragging rights. GirlCode believes that women would be more drawn to an altruistic goal: projects that will make a difference to society as a whole, so the hackathon is not run as a competition, but rather a collaborative learning experience, where everyone walks away with new knowledge and starter-kits to help them continue their journey in exploring the tech space.

Staying with tech, the key question is what skills are needed for the future of South Africa? How can we better support start-ups to scale? How can big business and government support start-ups?

There are critical skills needed in the job market today and it’s even easier to launch a start-up with a good client pipeline. Let’s take a look at what’s out there tech-wise and the basic remuneration that goes with it.

App development is worth over $77billion globally with an average entry-level pay of R231 000 per annum;

Network security is worth $165billion globally with an average entry-level pay of R373 375 per annum;

Data science is worth over $125billion with an average level entry pay of R395 207 per annum;

Digital marketing is worth over $135billion with an average entry-level pay of R299 427 per annum;

Games development is worth over $108billion with an average entry-level pay of R400 000 per annum;

Hadoop is worth over $80billion with an average entry-level pay of R500 000 per annum;

Robotics is worth over $135billion with an average entry-level pay of R300 000 per annum;

Internet of Things is worth over $160billion with an average entry-level pay of R272 000 per annum.

Positioning for the future remains critical and I believe that re-strategizing the education systems, reskilling and upskilling for the future and supporting and scaling our young people’s start-ups are paramount to empower South Africa’s youth.

At 22 on Sloane, we’re always on the lookout for like-minded partners and startups that will help turn these dreams into reality, build our economy and ensure that Africans continue to rise and achieve the Africa Union’s Agenda 2063, of obviating the environment where young Africans come up with great, sound ideas, but go no further.

Kizito Okechukwu is the co-Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) Africa; 22 on Sloane is Africa’s largest start-up campus.