Don’t wait on the government, empower yourself for a future in IT

Mvelo Hlophe, CEO at Zaio. Image: Supplied.

Mvelo Hlophe, CEO at Zaio. Image: Supplied.

Published Jun 17, 2024


By Mvelo Hlophe, CEO at Zaio.

In a time when the shadows of unemployment loom large over the aspirations of young South Africans, the need for proactive empowerment has never been more urgent.

As we approach National Youth Month, the latest unemployment figures from Statistics SA paint a stark reality for South African youths. The statistics reveal a concerning trend with over 4,9 million young people aged 15—34, representing 45,5% of this demographic, currently unemployed. In 2024, the absorption rate of young men entering the job market was 31,9%, surpassing young women whose rate stood at only 24,2%. Shockingly, the estimated unemployment rate among young females stood at a staggering 49.4%.

Ironically, while millions of smart young South Africans are desperate for work, there are chronic shortages of certain skills in both South Africa and the rest of the world. Industries are urgently seeking a range of IT skills—including developers, and cyber security and AI specialists. The digital skills shortage is so significant that experts estimate over 85 million jobs globally will remain unfilled by 2030.

Young South Africans who equip themselves with these in-demand skills can seek formal—and very well-paid—employment virtually anywhere in the world, or they can engage in remote “gig economy” work for international companies while remaining in South Africa.

Getting past stumbling blocks

With such a wealth of career opportunities out there, why are young South Africans not rushing to take advantage of them? Misconceptions and a lack of information are partly to blame. When Zaio takes part in outreach programmes at schools, we still find learners aspiring to a narrow range of “traditional” careers: law, medicine, accounting or working for the government. Surprisingly, many individuals are unfamiliar with the field of IT.

There seems to be a prevailing notion one must select specific subjects in school, follow a singular career path, and never stray from it. Particularly concerning the IT sector, many young South Africans seem to think IT is a highly technical, white male-dominated sector with high barriers to entry.

The truth is that IT is a sector with opportunities for almost anyone. Creatives, academics, marketers, business development specialists and deeply technical geniuses can all find roles in IT. You do not need pure maths to work in IT, and you do not necessarily need a university degree. You can upskill yourself through short courses, online training, bootcamps and networking forums. Free and in-depth technical training is available online for those who care to look.

Moreover, careers do not always follow a straight path—you can start in one direction and pivot at any moment. Take my journey, for example. I began with studies in politics, philosophy and economics and eventually transitioned to training coders. Similarly, young South Africans who feel unsatisfied with their current career path can explore learning digital skills through online self-learning and transition into the dynamic IT sector.

Making yourself marketable in IT

We recommend that young people look for a combination of foundational training and vendor certifications. An example is our 6-month full-stack web development bootcamps and self-paced learning courses which produce job-ready web developers who secure good jobs without fail. With a little work experience behind them, we believe they will launch their own digital businesses. Many of our alumni also increase their earnings by freelancing on international work platforms.

It is also important to enrich your knowledge by immersing yourself in the subject through news, online forums, and events. LinkedIn is open to everyone and is an easy way to build a professional network or find mentors.

We find employers tend to value experience, so it is important to take every opportunity you can to build a portfolio of work—even if it is through doing favours for friends and family, or pro bono development work for a local NGO.

South Africans have always been resilient by nature. Now that our youth are faced with higher unemployment rates than ever before, they need to be self-starters. They must accept that traditional approaches to ‘getting a job’ might not be the answer in the modern world, and they must look at non-traditional means to further themselves. The power to create a future in IT lies not in the hands of the government but in the determination and drive of each individual.