New tech academy believes it has answers to SA’s youth unemployment challenge

Media feature in the Star

Forge Academy is the new kid on the block in the technology space, aiming to get South Africans on board with their skills training. Powered by Nokia, the academy launched the first-of-its-kind artificial intelligence lab in the country late last year.

“One of the biggest challenges facing the country, and globally, when it comes to the youth is the mismatch between the jobs of the future and unemployment,” said Forge Academy’s chief executive Arthur Wade Anderson. “Youth unemployment has become a no-go area to talk about and we think we have an answer to that. How we make sure that the right skills are in the interview room is the answer. The jobs are there,” added Wade Anderson. He said there were about 133 million jobs to be created according to the World Economic Forum in technology.

“Especially when it comes to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), people are using this wording but don’t have an idea about what it entails and what it is going to bring. “I see it as an enormous opportunity for young people to get involved because it is something that is new. Most people are familiar with technology, they just don’t know how to use (it) to get the job they want.” Forge Academy has designed a programme for South African youth that is modelled on Finnish education principles, and equipped with Nokia smart technology.

“The children we are taking into the classroom now they are getting into the media side of things. Social media is growing all the time and behind all of that there are jobs. Someone has to be a data scientist to know what information to put forward; we want to train them so they can collect information, make sense of it and then monetise that information…”

It is all about preparing the students for theoretical, laboratory and on-the-job training for their participation in the 4IR. “There are opportunities in search engine optimisation and how to position companies better because that is how people buy nowadays. Our young people can do that. ”

The academy’s other focus is on providing practical experience for children.

“We want to create a lab environment where kids can come and put forth their ideas, experiment and explore. For them to have the ability to do that, the environment has to be conducive,” added Anderson. The Future X Lab – an environment that allows the creation of a live 5G network – is at the centre of the academy.

“What we want to do here is create new services and products for the future and give our kids the opportunities. There are only two other labs like this in the world – one in the US and the other in Finland. We have the potential to be the third, globally. You can imagine what that can do for industry.”

Anderson believes South Africa’s greatest export is its people, and the work they are doing at the academy will help make a difference.

“We are addressing the needs of young people – how do we identify great talent, how do we get them to the right classroom environment, education, practical experience and matching them to jobs or enterprise opportunities?”

He said they would be going into other parts of Africa but South Africa was their priority.

“To get into the programme is a little difficult right now. We have a boot camp process, giving the youth access to a six-week programme and then take the top talent. Those who don't make it, we don't reject them, we just redirect them to other paths. We find other things for them to do.”

The boot camps started last year and every six weeks they continue the process until at least 1000 youth are in their programme.

“The opportunities include a one year-programme and the students finish off with a degree. There is also an opportunity to travel internationally – the more we expose our kids and they come back – the better our odds are of creating a greater story. We are super-excited because we know the talent lies here.”

Anderson added that all people needed better opportunities.

“If we can narrow that digital gap, we can take the learnings and fasttrack the skills.”

The Star

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