A new programme that focuses on teaching young people Web programming and entrepreneurship will ultimately tie up with similar initiatives to make Johannesburg a smarter and more innovative city. The programme is a partnership between SAP, Simplon and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre in Newtown and aims to advance youth skills development among graduate students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds.

David Kramer, CEO of the Sci Bono Discover Centre, says the programme could ultimately link up with Wits University’s Tshomolong Precinct in Braamfontein to form a digital corridor and exchange resources.

“That kind of discussion has to happen with the city,” he says. “There are a number of pieces in the jigsaw, and they need to be fitted together into a coherent plan.

“We have identified many pieces of the puzzle: how we put them together is where we are going now. It will happen – we are too far along for it not to.”

Students taking part in the Simplon Sci-Bono training initiative will learn sufficient coding skills in order to make a living from programming. They will also be taught essential business skills such as business plan writing, business benchmarking, teambuilding, start-up creation and fundraising.

The five-month training schedule will involve a two-month introduction to programming, and then a three-month internship where students will create app projects for educational institutions in the Gauteng province and for other
mentoring organisations.

Andrei Vladescu-Olt, co-founder of Simplon, says: “We are committed to positioning IT as the sector of the future and creating an environment that stimulates social innovation and encourages diversity. Through this new partnership, we will be able to nurture the expression and realisation of creative ideas by those who would not necessarily have had the competencies or the environment to do so.”

Kramer adds that Sci Bono is proud to be the local partner. “We look forward to facilitating the training and development of a new generation of motivated developers and business people. We believe this project will unlock new opportunities for our youth in the exciting IT sector.”

Mehmood Khan, chief operations officer at SAP Africa, comments: “By the time the training is concluded, students should have a firm understanding of standard technologies such as Linux, Ruby on Rails, Meteor.js, CSS, JavaScript and others in order to start their careers. In addition, the business skills SAP will teach will unlock opportunities for them to create their own start-up companies. We are confident that the combination of technical skills training, mentoring from experienced coders and business people, and hands-on skills development will create new job opportunities that will assist with addressing key skills shortages in South Africa.”

Khan believes that the development of technical skills among South Africa’s youth is critical to the country’s future. “IT holds huge potential for promoting social inclusion, but that is only possible if we fight against the digital divide among Africa’s youth. This training initiative will see SAP experts mentoring talented young graduates, thereby encouraging a culture of entrepreneurship and technical excellence. The training will focus primarily on web development and the creation of digital start-ups, and students will have an opportunity to earn an income during the course.”

Selection will focus on sourcing a diverse range students who are from modest backgrounds, people who are underrepresented in the ICT sector, and students who have great ideas for social projects but lack the background and skills to make them a reality.

This initiative also links up to Africa Code Week, an initiative spearheaded by the SAP Corporate Social Responsibility Europe Middle East and Africa division, to spread digital literacy all over Africa. As part of this project, from October 1 to October 10, an estimated 20,000 children and young people ranging in age from eight to 24 years will be participating in software coding workshops across 11 African countries. Africa Code Week ran pilot programs in South Africa and Nigeria in June ahead of the October launch.

“In 2013, we launched our ‘Skills for Africa’ initiative off the back of a pressing demand for technology solutions, as well as the need for the right talent to be developed in Africa specifically with a view to employability. This new partnership with Simplon and the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is the continuation of our broader commitment to consolidate skills development efforts in Africa, as per our agreement with the World Bank,” says Khan.