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Alan Turnley-Jones, Dimension Data Services Executive for the Middle East and Africa

The private sector has a significant role to play in growing business-ready skills and curtailing unemployment, says Alan Turnley-Jones,  Dimension Data Services Executive for the Middle East and Africa.

With the country having reached its highest unemployment level since 2003 and news of further downgrades waking us up every other morning, South Africans might be finding it difficult not to adopt a negative outlook for the future.

What they perhaps don’t realise is that we have the means to start pushing back against this dilemma and skills development will have an important part to play.

One needs only to take a look at the recent Africa Competitiveness Report 2017 which was released at the World Economic Forum Africa to see that a considerable part of the challenge we are facing lies in the conundrum that exists between potential employees who can’t find work and potential employers who can’t seem to access the skills that they need.

According to the report, South Africa’s quality levels of higher education have decreased relative to the expectations of employers. What’s more, there is a growing shortage of technicians, engineers and other high-skilled workers.

On the other hand, Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey tells us that our unemployment rate of 27.7% is up 1.2% from the fourth quarter in 2016.

Not surprisingly the Africa Competiveness Report determines that expanding and improving technical and vocational education and training programmes will play an important role in helping us to close the widening skills gap that is hindering our country.

It’s also obvious that if we are to succeed we need to see a significant intervention in the form of partnerships between the private and public sector.

Taking technical skills to market

It was with a view to forming part of the solution to this challenge that Dimension Data embarked on an aggressive recruitment campaign in the Eastern Cape. The initiative comes off of the back of the launch of our Managed Service Centre, for the Middle East and Africa in Port Elizabeth. Essentially the Managed Service Centre is responsible for end-to-end managed service delivery, including management of major incidents and country resources.

The new development has been in operation since June last year and during this time Dimension Data has partnered with a Youth Employment Accelerator called Harambee.

The Youth Employment programme recruits young people who have completed their matric and have either begun their University studies or perhaps haven’t been able to afford to go to University.

It then puts those recruits through a three-to-four week business readiness training course or boot camp if you like. By the end of the course, there is a marked difference in the professionalism of these students. While they start out very uncertain of themselves, in just a short time they develop significant confidence in the business skills they’ve acquired. Suddenly they are enthusiastic and sure of how to conduct themselves and how to engage in business conversations.

It’s at this point in the development process that Dimension Data gets involved by interviewing the 20 or so candidates trained by Harambee. We then send roughly half of these trainees on a technical boot camp at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) where they spend another three weeks undergoing technical training.

Finally, we bring them through to the Centre to undergo induction and business readiness training before they go live in the Centre.

Drawing on future talent

Plans are already underway to grow our capacity at the Centre which we will do by drawing on the considerable talent pool that we have access to in the Eastern Cape. Our teams from the Managed Service Centre, as well as our Dimension Data business in the Eastern Cape and another company of ours called Britehouse all moved into a new building a few months ago. The building will enable us to grow our capacity to around 375 employees, which we aim to do during the Centre’s first 18 months of operation.

The idea is that the more people we employ the greater our contribution to skills development in the region will be.

What we need to see now is a greater commitment from other organisations in the private sector to adopt similar initiatives. Together we can start narrowing the skills gap in our country and push back against the dreaded unemployment rate. If we can do that it will only be a matter of time before we start waking up to news headlines of a very different kind.

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