Digital Bootcamp: Upskilling unemployed UCT grads and ‘interrupted’ students

24 June 2022 | Story Helen Swingler. Photo Getty Images. Director Nico Badenhuizen. Videography MS Teams. Video Edit Ruairi Abrahams. Voice Cwenga Koyana. Read time 7 min.
UCT’s new Digital Bootcamp is an innovative project to upskill unemployed graduates and ‘interrupted’ students and give them a shot at jobs.
 

The University of Cape Town’s (UCT) newly launched Digital Bootcamp will give the university’s unemployed graduates and those with incomplete degrees a chance to get useful digital skills – and a bite at the digital job market.

The innovative programme is a partnership between UCT and Umuzi, a digital education company that was co-founded by a UCT commerce alumnus, and managing director Andrew Levy. The company trains top talent for digital roles at the country’s leading companies and institutions.

The pilot project will enrol 100 invited participants, providing an additional pathway to employment in a range of sectors in need of digital skills.

Already huge interest has been shown in the pilot project, which will be open to UCT students who fit two criteria:

  • Those whose studies have been interrupted during the past three years, forcing them to leave UCT without a degree.
  • Students who have graduated in the past three years but have not found employment.

Change the landscape

A 2019 study showed that 78% of university students could not complete their degrees on time. While UCT’s dropout rate is 10%, far lower than the national average, it is still too high, Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said at the pilot project launch. Hosted by UCT on 22 June, this took the form of a panel discussion with Professor Phakeng, Levy and Chair of Council Babalwa Ngonyama. Through a pre-recorded message, the UCT Chancellor Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe voiced her support for the initiative.

A chartered accountant and entrepreneur, Ngonyama welcomed the opportunity to change the landscape. Ngonyama congratulated Phakeng, the UCT executive and staff who had initiated the innovative project.

 

“[By doing so] we make sure that we power our country, we create significant opportunities for the use of our country, and, more importantly, our continent.”

It showed the visionary leadership and thinking needed to address the country’s 60% youth unemployment crisis, she said. It would also give eligible UCT students a leg up – and boost the economy.

“[By doing so] we make sure that we power our country, we create significant opportunities for the use of our country, and, more importantly, our continent.”

Digital skills are in massive demand, Phakeng added. “CEOs tell us they recruit talent from Indonesia and India to fill the [digital skills] gap. There is a clear gap to be filled if the country is going to keep up with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

The plan is to grow the Digital Bootcamp project to reach a broader pool of eligible students, with sponsorships from international corporates looking for digital skills in their local offices.

Therein lies an opportunity for employers too, said Ngonyama.

“It’s an invitation to partnerships,” she said. “For corporates and industry to get behind this with sponsorship and participate meaningfully in that space … invest it in this country, create benefits even beyond the IT skills that you have invested in.”

Unleash human potential

The Digital Bootcamp is a project with direct UCT Vision 2030 links that underscore its massive transformative purpose: unleashing human potential for a fair and just society.

“We don’t just want our students to fill digital jobs. We want them to bring an African perspective to help steer the growth of the digital economy across and for our continent,” said Phakeng. “This is part of our institutional mission.”

When asked about certification students would receive in completing the course, Levy said the focus was more on skills development. “It will provide a stepping-stone to learning and earning,” he said.

“We need to build a generation of young people [who] feel positive, confident within themselves, and have the access and opportunities to enable that potential, and then to support others. Otherwise, we continue to go down a path where the haves and the have nots grow wider and further apart. And I really believe that interrupted learners and interrupted students are the key to getting these young people across that bridge as quickly as possible.”

 

“The four big banks alone are spending R4 billion a year on offshoring these tech skills.”

Interruption does not mean the end, he said. “That is something we must be clear about within the zeitgeist of current South African conversations. There’s a huge market breakage here. We have a massive unemployment problem; we have corporates who say they have a massive demand for these digital skills. And we need to meet the skills where these young people are to deliver on the work.”

Levy said that the project could feasibly create around 10 000 new jobs in the country’s digital economy.

“The four big banks alone are spending R4 billion a year on offshoring these tech skills to places like India, eastern Europe and the Philippines. Imagine if we brought these skills back to our economy – imagine what that would do to the tax base, to the dependence values of South Africa and to the unemployment ratios … We need to enable people by building out pipelines to these new [digital] careers and start with enabling junior positions, then mid positions and senior positions.”

Dr Moloi-Motsepe said the initiative would build on other innovative projects UCT was engaged in.

“Last year, when UCT launched the online high school, I said, maybe, just maybe we have radically transformed the impact that projects like these could have on South Africa and on the rest of the African continent. Today, launching the UCT Digital Bootcamp, I want to reiterate the potential impact of programmes like these, which use technology innovatively to transfer critical skills and knowledge in South Africa, and Africa.

 

“The UCT digital boot camp will help prepare our current and future workforces for a 21st century labour market.”

She added, “We know that unemployment remains our biggest challenge. The mismatch between young people’s skills and the skills demanded in the labour market not only drives youth unemployment, but limits economic growth, innovation, and standards of living for us all.

“The UCT Digital Bootcamp will help prepare our current and future workforces for a 21st-century labour market that is unpredictable [and] that requires a creative, adaptable mindset above all else.

“Initiatives like this will change and help build economies that are innovative and inclusive. And that work for all South Africans. In Youth Month, the Digital Bootcamp will help give young people that agency to design their own lives, create their own opportunities, and empower others around them.”


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