Microsoft kicked off its South African BUILD conference this morning with a keynote address that spoke about how the company believes it is the local economy by creating jobs in the IT sector.
Developer Experience Lead at Microsoft South Africa,Clifford de Wit, told an audience of around 1 000 developers that the firm had surveyed local businesses and found that 72 per cent see the internet as integral to their future. But he added that they also see South Africa’s skill shortage as an inhibitor to growth, with 40 per cent of surveyed businesses saying they see it as a major inhibitor and “an alarming 40 per cent” see it as a threat to their very existence.
He said Microsoft sees a lot of employment opportunities coming out of the IT sector, which could help reverse the country’s unemployment rate, which rose from 24 per cent to 26 per cent in the last year. Working together with government, initiatives and programs pursued by Microsoft could result in the creation of over 77 000 jobs to the economy over the next four years, said de Wit
To help this along, and to contribute towards South Africa’s transition from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based one, de Wit talked about several Microsoft initiatives that are aimed at training South Africans and turning them into developers.
Microsoft’s local App Factory started about 18 months ago with help from the company’s 4Afrika Initiative, with the intention of creating new developers and locally-relevant apps. Successes stories developed at the App Factory have included the Rea Vaya and SAA Apps, the official IEC app, Simfy Africa and a virtual tour of Wits for new students called This is Wits.
De Wit said Microsoft has placed 10 per cent of App Factory graduates into new jobs, to the point where he says IT companies are actively poaching App Factory students now.
He also mentioned BizSpark, an initiative by Microsoft South Africa aimed at helping startups get off the ground by providing access to Microsoft software tools for free, reducing their costs, providing business and technical support and facilitate networking opportunities.
Microsoft’s online educational programs include Virtual and IT Academies, Student2Business and the App Factory. The stated aim of these courses is to help South Africans into full-time jobs or into digital startups of their own. Students don’t have to go from one to the other in order to gain the necessary skills, and can join any programme any time they feel they are ready.