Accenture has partnered with the Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct and the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE), to provide both training and job opportunities to vulnerable youth for the future of work. This year’s activities culminated in Hour of Code, hosted at the Tshimologong Precinct – an inspiring coding-focused workshop and maker space, attended by 65 youth from across Johannesburg.
‘We have been partnering with Professor Barry Dwolatzky and the JCSE for the past 12 years,’ said Khethiwe Nkuna, Head of Corporate Citizenship and Inclusion and Diversity Lead for Accenture in Africa. ‘Our focus is on both teaching ICT skills and proving work in the field – spanning training, placements and jobs for vulnerable youth.’
During 2018, year-long Coder Dojo programme was run by Accenture at the company’s Harrowdene offices, with youth between the ages of 6 and 18 trained in coding every second Saturday. The programme culminated in a graduation ceremony on 8th of December – the last day of International Code Week.
‘Accenture proudly partnered with the JCSE in its 2018 Hour of Code activities,’ noted Nkuna. ‘The day also heralded the beginning of a new Coder Dojo programme running in partnership with the JCSE from 2019 onward, which will take place at the Tshimologong Precinct in Braamfontein.’
‘There has been huge emphasis on coding for the last year or two in SA,’ explained Professor Barry Dwolatzky. ‘We’ve even seen a national proposal that coding become our 13th official language, sign language being the 12th. If South Africa and Africa more broadly are going to compete in the 4th Industrial Revolution, we need to have our people equipped to be able to play a role. We as the JCSE have been very involved with Accenture for the past 12 years in developing coding skills among young people. Our focus has generally been on those post school, but Hour of Code is all about working with school kids. We want to make coding exciting and interesting.’
The Hour of Code activities were held at Wits University’s Digital Innovation Hub, known as the Tshimologong Precinct. ‘Coding was taught in a language called Scratch,’ noted Dwolatzky, ‘which comes from MIT. It’s a coding language that even preschool kids can learn to program in. It’s very accessible. With Scratch, people can very quickly produce things such a game or app.’
‘When we compare ourselves to other Brics countries, we are punching below our weight when it comes to technology,’ emphasises Nkuna, ‘mainly because of our education system. For example, in India, coding and technology education are entrenched and start early. Coding is one of the basic enablers allowing people to access opportunities within the digital economy. There’s definitely an opportunity in South Africa that needs to be accelerated. Last year, we trained 1700 young people and placed them in employment – the majority in programming. We continue to see the demand for those skills.’
Professor Dwolatzky added that South Africa is seeing a new convergence of forces and players in the digital space. ‘Innovation is about solving real problems,’ Dwolatzky highlighted. ‘If we can leverage digital to solve some of Africa’s problems in an innovative way, the sky is the limit. We should be leaders in applying digital technology to solve real issues. We recently had a young man come up with an innovative way to dispense chronic medication. While that may not be interesting in Silicon Valley or Europe, it’s very relevant in a developing country. If we can find opportunities and ecosystems to support young people to help them to solve real problems, we can see a revolution in the use of technology in Africa. But it’s not a given. We have to grow the base of skills.’
Past participants in Accenture’s coding outreach work have also seen major successes. ‘We had a young man develop an app to help with the reporting of fires in shacks,’ notes Nkuna. ‘He was in grade 10 at the time. We helped him refine the concept and he later won an award for his work as a young entrepreneur. For us, Hour of Code is all about creating that basic awareness and interest in coding and the STEM world – it’s that first spark.’