The Department of Communications' Meraka e-Skills Institute and Microsoft have signed an agreement that will see all 50 of South Africa's public Further Education and Training (FET) colleges become accredited Microsoft IT Academies.
The initiative – dubbed '21st century skills for employability' – will for the first time make internationally-accredited training and certifications available to students at the FETs, over and above their local qualifications.
This will give students the platform to pursue further studies in the field, while providing them with immediate skills that will exponentially increase their chances of employment.
"There is a clear need to improve the employability prospects of our citizens and raise basic ICT skills levels in this country," says Dr Harold Wesso, the acting CEO of the Meraka e-Skills Institute.
"Through the Microsoft IT Academy Programme, we hope the FET Colleges will become a breeding ground for highly skilled ICT professionals, and create a pool of trainers who are capable of training future generations."
The Microsoft IT Academy programme connects the world of education to the world of work by giving students the chance to experience real-world challenges in the classroom environment, using a comprehensive technology curriculum.
Microsoft will supply courseware, training materials, curricula and marketing collateral to the FETs, and will ensure that all trainers are fully certified. All Microsoft IT Academy exams are mapped to the National Qualifications Framework (NQF), which also means they count as credits towards local qualifications.
David Ives, head of the developer and platform team at Microsoft South Africa, says the initiative is an extension of the company's recently-announced national schools software agreement. This saw Microsoft supply free versions of its latest productivity and server software – worth an estimated R750-million – to 26 000 government schools and FETs.
"The initiative allows students to access the latest computer technologies and receive higher levels of professional ICT training, making them more employable. We'll also provide courses and certification to the unemployed, people with disabilities and older workers at government- or Microsoft-subsidised rates," says Ives.
"We see this initiative really helping the youth of South Africa to participate in the knowledge economy, and to significantly raise the level of ICT skills among our young people. We want to help develop a culture of innovation through the power of ICT in the South African workforce, but the bottom line is to make our youth more employable."