South Africa’s ICT sector is poised for significant growth and innovation, driven by a powerful force: our youth. With approximately 54% of tech professionals in the country under the age of 35, we face a critical strategic question.

By Morwesi Ramphenyane, chief administration officer at Openserve

The question before us is not whether we should invest in our young talent, but how we can strategically harness this demographic dividend to propel our industry – and indeed our nation – into a future defined by innovation and global competitiveness.

Young people are the engine of ICT growth

Investing in youth development is no longer just corporate social responsibility; it’s a business imperative. As we commemorate Youth Month, we’re reminded of the immense potential within our ICT sector.

Africa boasts the world’s youngest population, with nearly 60% under the age of 25, a trend that is projected to continue until 2100. This demographic presents both a significant challenge and a remarkable opportunity. Forward-thinking businesses recognise that today’s youth will shape the digital landscape for decades to come.

As we reimagine our approach, we might reconsider how we measure success, focusing on long-term benefits like increased innovation capacity and sector growth. To harness this demographic dividend effectively, we need to rethink our approach to talent acquisition and development, including potentially exploring financial incentives that support youth investment.

Redefining talent development for tomorrow’s tech

The traditional study paths for entering the ICT sector are no longer sufficient to meet growing demands. While university degrees remain valuable, we must broaden our perspective on what constitutes qualified talent. Alternative education systems, coding academies, and specialised boot camps are creating new pipelines of adaptable, skilled workers.

Programmes like WeThinkCode and CapaCiTi demonstrate that with the right training, individuals from diverse backgrounds can quickly become valuable sector contributors. These initiatives have successfully placed hundreds of previously unemployed youths in technology positions, helping address critical skills shortages.

However, tomorrow’s leaders need more than just technical proficiency. They must think critically, communicate effectively, and navigate complex ethical landscapes. Proactive companies like Openserve recognise this, focusing on recruiting talent under 35 across various educational levels. This approach not only addresses immediate skill needs but also helps cultivate future industry leaders.

In an industry where skills rapidly become obsolete, fostering a culture of continuous learning is essential. We must therefore evolve from one-time investments to ongoing commitments in upskilling and reskilling our workforce.

While rethinking our internal strategies is crucial, true transformation requires collaboration beyond company walls. To maximise the impact of our youth development efforts, we must look beyond individual company initiatives and foster a collaborative approach across the entire ICT ecosystem.

Cultivating collaborative ICT ecosystems

The most effective youth development strategies leverage collaboration to create powerful ecosystems of growth and innovation. Industry leaders like Openserve are setting a powerful example in this regard. Our comprehensive approach to youth development demonstrates how companies can create a robust talent pipeline by working in concert with educational institutions and aligning with government initiatives.

Openserve’s CoC Candidacy Programme, for instance, offers a blend of theoretical training and workplace exposure. This initiative, developed in partnership with the MICT SETA and the Johannesburg Institute of Engineering and Technology, addresses the critical need for skilled professionals in power installations while contributing to the broader development of the ICT sector. By collaborating with institutions and aligning with national skills development goals, Openserve ensures that their programmes remain relevant to industry needs and create meaningful impact.

These collaborative efforts must go beyond technical training and incorporate mentorship, leadership development, and exposure to real-world problem-solving. However, challenges remain. Many young people face barriers in accessing quality education and resources. The digital divide still presents obstacles. Innovative solutions like blended learning and industry-sponsored programmes can help bridge these gaps, ensuring no potential talent is left untapped.

Advancing South Africa’s digital competitiveness

Investing in youth development in the ICT sector can drive progress across our entire economy. As young, tech-savvy professionals enter diverse industries, they’ll drive South Africa’s technological advancement and boost our global competitiveness.

A decade from now, our ICT sector could be a powerhouse of innovation, with youth spearheading solutions to local and global challenges. This vision is within reach but demands immediate action. As industry leaders, we must place youth development at the core of our strategies.

By rethinking hiring practices, reimagining training programmes, and strengthening partnerships with educational institutions and government bodies, we can unlock the potential of our youth and drive South Africa’s digital economy forward.