South Africa’s ICT sector, which has come under renewed pressure to transform in recent months, is increasingly looking to NPO YES (Youth Employment Service) to help create a new cohort of tech-skilled youth through YES’s turnkey implementation partner model.

According to the Sanlam Gauge report, the ICT sector is under pressure to drive transformation and growth in South Africa, although it is exceeding black ownership targets. Sector regulator Icasa introduced a raft of new B-BBEE rules earlier this year, including a requirement for companies to maintain 30% equity ownership by black people and level 4 B-BEEE status.

Through the YES model, ICT companies can sponsor 12-month youth work experiences with five out of 35 implementation partners providing tech skills training to create long-term 4IR jobs. This not only gives youth income-generating work experiences and the skills needed to compete in a digital job market, but allows the sponsor companies to improve their B-BBEE credentials by accelerating their skills upliftment, training and job creation initiatives.

Fiona Tabraham, chief executive of skills development hub CapaCiTi, said that providing technical skills to digitally marginalised young people resulted in more than 80% of youth being placed in meaningful work experiences. Top performers could gain employment with salaries in excess of R15,000pm, making a significant economic impact to their lives, and those of their families.

“Many youth in South Africa are digitally illiterate, which means they have a limited ability to access and communicate information through digital platforms. This often excludes them from the professional workplace. We should never underestimate the difference that digital literacy makes to their lives, and the impact investment in these skills can have on the South African economy,” says Tabraham.

Even before Covid-19 saw a surge in digital learning, YES was implementing online courses to get youth work-ready and to ensure that youth in townships and rural areas could all access the same content. Each YES Youth receives a phone preloaded with zero-rated mobile applications that train them in soft skills and work readiness, and monitor and evaluate their work experiences and socio-emotional and behavioural shifts throughout the programme.

YES IP lead Farai Mubaiwa says access to technology ‘democratised’ access to jobs by providing opportunities to a range of marginalised young people – including differently-abled youth – and provided a multiplier effect in terms of supporting local economies.

“Since joining the YES programme, we’ve seen young people’s relationship with technology change dramatically. From barely being able to turn on a computer or operate a smartphone, many YES Youth in technology jobs can now design and create websites, and understand IT systems and software. This allows them to transfer these skills to SMMEs and NGOs in their communities, while maintaining a much-needed job and income,” says Mubaiwa.

Bilal Kathrada, a director at IT Varsity, says South Africa must follow the lead of countries like India, Singapore and Bangladesh, who have taken advantage of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) to create vast pools of skilled IT professionals. According to the ICT Division of the Bangladesh Government, the country alone has 650,000 IT freelancers who can compete in the global outsourcing market, of which 500 000 are actively working.

“South Africa has the youth, but we haven’t given them the necessary tech skills, and business and entrepreneurship know-how to go out and grab opportunities like this. The importance of investing in tech skills and jobs lies in preparing South African youth to take advantage of this massive global IT services and outsourcing sector,” says Kathrada.

“The social and economic impact of this will be huge. Just imagine if we had half a million IT freelancers doing IT outsourcing for companies around the world. It would be a multibillion-dollar contribution to the economy and our communities.”

YES partners at IT varsity have placed over 100 YES youth initiative permanent jobs at great companies. To prove his model, Kathrada did pro-bono work in Tembisa, running a course called Apptrepreneuer with YES.

YES is a not-for-profit joint initiative between business, government and labour that aims to address the youth unemployment crisis in South Africa. Since being founded 130 weeks ago, YES has worked with 1,557 South African companies to create more than 57 516 work experiences, with no government funding. This has seen over R3.2 billion being ploughed into communities and the economy through youth wallets.