Teaching coding today will grow the economy tomorrow

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

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

It’s no secret that the digital revolution is going to create major disruption in the workplace. But the good news is if we are able to develop the skills necessary to support these emerging phenomena, then we have the opportunity to unlock great potential. According to a report recently published by PwC, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is expected to grow the GDP in Africa, Oceania and Asia (excluding China) by around $1.2 trillion by 2030.

In fact, the global GDP which totalled around $74 trillion in 2015 is expected to increase by 14% by 2030 as a direct result of growth in AI. This is positive news, considering South Africa’s current unemployment rate of 27.7%, which, according to Statistics South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, is up 1.2% from the fourth quarter in 2016.

However, in order to take hold of the opportunities brought about by the AI revolution we first need to ensure South Africans have the necessary skills to take on the jobs that will be created. This means we need to start putting the right education initiatives in place now.

Based on statistics from the World Economic Forum (WEF) Future of Jobs report we know that 65% of children entering primary school today will end up in professions that do not yet exist. In South Africa alone, WEF Africa predicts that 39% of the core skills required across industries will be completely different in three years’ time.

Coding ability will become crucial
The boom in AI, robotics and IoT will create a massive demand for very particular sets of ICT and STEM skills. In fact, some global tech experts believe that a basic knowledge of coding will soon become as fundamental to a child’s education as literacy and numeracy. The problem is that there is already a worldwide shortage of skilled individuals able to fulfil jobs created by emerging technologies. The US, which often leads the way in terms of global trends, will have an estimated one million computer programming jobs unfilled by 2020, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. There’s no doubt that coding is becoming a huge skills demand in South Africa as well. As everything moves from hardware to software, coders are becoming hot property within the local market. As a result companies in South Africa that require these skills are often hard pressed to find professionals to meet this demand.

Growing skills to grab opportunities
In order to try and bridge this skills gap, Dimension Data is focused, not only on developing skills to support traditional IT hardware infrastructure, but also on growing those new sets of IT skills which will soon be required.

In support of this, Dimension Data has launched its own “Learn to Code” campaign which offers all employees the opportunity to undertake a series of interactive programming courses. Through a process of building several example applications, the campaign teaches employees the essentials of Python – an Open Source programming language used extensively by hardware and software vendors in the IT industry.

Since inception over 2500 people have registered for Learn to Code with over 500 completions. While we always knew we had significant talent within the company, the response to this voluntary initiative has been overwhelming, and validates the belief that our teams are eager to evolve and develop their skills for the future.

It’s important for us to ensure that future generations headed into the workplace are equipped with these kinds of digital skills – not only because they are about to become essential to a wide range of business functions – but also because these are the skills that will help to reduce unemployment and grow the economy.

Technology experts have a particularly important part to play in helping South Africa successfully transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We have a brief window of opportunity to make a real difference to the future of thousands of young South Africans and we can’t afford to waste it.

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