Hacking SA’s high female unemployment rate: How ICT can open up opportunities

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Women in South Africa are the most affected by the growing unemployment rate, according to figures from StatsSA.

Figures released yesterday for the second quarter of 2017 national employment rate reveal that South Africa’s unexpanded unemployment rate remained the same at 27.7%.

When broken down according to gender, there are large disparities in the labour market, with the unemployment rate among females being higher than males. Women are also less likely to participate in the labour market.

The reason behind this is a concoction of many factors including South Africa’s history, societal standards, gender roles and sexism in the labour market and how the economy has traditional operated.

Opportunities in the traditional labour fields are also on a downward trend with a number of jobs in previously thriving industries being rendered redundant, which means if employment is to grow again, now and in the future, we need to be looking at more modern, non-traditional sectors, to open up more opportunities.

One of these sectors is ICT, coding in particular, which has a wealth of growing opportunities which if given training and access to, women could tap into to escape the jaws of unemployment and ultimately, poverty.

“I believe there are many opportunities and the biggest issue is actually skills development – even to become an entrepreneur you need certain skills such as financial management. A lot of young people and in particular women need critical skills training such as computer literacy and financial literacy to enable them to be participants in the economy as employees or entrepreneurs. Recent stats have revealed that black women are the largest unemployed group and so its imperative to create sustainable initiatives to alleviate the high unemployment rate,” says Zandile Keebine, Chairwoman of GirlCode.

Keebine explains that starting off in primary and high school with introducing coding in school the curriculum is a good place to start.

“In 2016, the City of Johannesburg and Microsoft entered into an partnership to train more than one million people in some of Johannesburg’s disadvantaged areas with free basic computer skills. This is the kind of initiative which needs to be implemented within the school system nationally.”

“However the reality is that in government schools few of the teachers are computer literate and the students aren’t really “empowered” in how they can use the computers and what career paths they could go into. One doesn’t need to be a visionary to see the limitations here. Government might not have the skills and capacity to the run the programs, however this is an opportunity for SMEs and NGOs to run the programs on behalf of government. There has to be a collaboration across various entities to be able to create a sustainable program that will allow for a nationwide skills development program within schools,” she says.

Why teach girls to code

Why do we need to teach girls to code? What’s in it for them and our economy in the long run? 

“Teaching coding skills is not just about getting developers, it is about teaching people logic and creativity. Coding is just another language that will us to be equipped to be able to communicate and compete with other countries. Teaching programming skills to children, in particular young girls is also a long-term solution to the “skills gap” between the number of technology jobs and the people qualified to fill them.  Of course, most children won’t grow up to be skilled application developers, just as most people don’t become professional authors–but reading and writing skills are useful for everyone, and so in the digital age so will digital literacy and coding skills,” Keebine. 

“Research evidence such as the McKinsey Women Matters Report shows that ICT has an impact on economic growth. The accumulation of ICT capital stock is a determinant of output growth across economies. The creation of school leavers with familiarity and confidence in ICT, a good grasp of the basic generic software applications and a problem solving approach to work, will have a significant impact on labour productivity.” 

Keebine says GirlCode is playing a role in helping open up opportunities in the sector, explaining that it has been about creating awareness around digital literacy and the role women play in the digital economy.

“We have recently expanded our initiatives from an awareness perspective to training and providing the skills needed for young girl and women to participate in the economy. We have our monthly workshops that expose graduates to various programming and business skills, while also giving them exposure to companies that are looking to employ women in the ICT space,” she says.

“Next year we are starting two new initiatives, namely the GirlCoder Club program which will be a nationwide network of free, volunteer-led, weekend coding clubs designed for high school girls who want to have a strong foundation in digital literacy and basic programming skills. We also want to contribute to creating skills for women to gain employment through the GirlCode Digital Literacy program, which is a training initiative that provides women with no computer skills introductory courses to basic computer and internet literacy. The programs’ main focus is to teach skills that allow them to get job opportunities such as data capturing.”

[About GirlCode: GirlCode is non-profit organisation aimed at empowering women through technology. Following the success of the first hackathon, the GirlCode hackathon became an annual event, attracting more and more women each year; some who have never coded before in their lives.

Our mission is to create a network of women who are highly skilled in computer literacy, coding and design, and who can leverage those skills to develop innovative and sustainable solutions within their communities.

GirlCode is about disrupting the status-quo and providing opportunities for women.]

[Image – GirlCode]