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Businesses that are not upskilling staff are doing their people a real disservice. Picture: 123RF/HASLOO
Businesses that are not upskilling staff are doing their people a real disservice. Picture: 123RF/HASLOO

Rapid and widespread digitalisation has changed the nature of work — which makes having digital skills essential for today’s jobs. While the demand is high, the supply of people with these skills is lagging.

SA’s injustices are now feeding a new form of disparity, which is leading to digital inequality. This digital divide has a negative effect on people’s lives and career opportunities, as well as on businesses.

A recent Business Day Dialogue, in partnership with Salesforce, the world's number-one enterprise customer relationship management platform, explored just what would happen to the economy and overall advancement of SA without a focus on digital skills.

The discussion — watch a recording of the webinar below — also focused on the role of businesses and the government in helping to cross the digital divide. 

While the Covid-19 pandemic sped up digitalisation, it also highlighted the digital divide, said Zuko Mdwaba, head of sales at Salesforce SA. “The crux of the problem is the unequal society we live in.” 

Dimakatso Matshoga, chief operations officer at SAtion, said research was needed to understand the scale of the problem before solutions could be found. Once the problem is better understood, SA needs an adapted ecosystem to address it. “What works for one community will not necessarily for another,” she said. 

Businesses have made significant investments in digital transformation. Given the rapid rate at which technology advances, businesses that are not upskilling staff are doing their people a real disservice, said Linda Saunders, head of solution engineering at Salesforce SA. 

The digital divide starts in childhood, with research revealing the differences between children with access to the internet and those without — even if they have equal IQ levels. 

The youth getting left behind [due to the digital divide] is one of the reasons for SA’s high unemployment rate

The youth getting left behind is one of the reasons for SA’s high unemployment rate. 

Mdwaba said SA had to use its strengths. One of these strengths — ironically — is a large youth population with a high rate of mobile phone ownership. 

Given this, it is encouraging that minister of communications and digital technologies Khumbudzo Ntshavheni has said that every South African will be given access to 10GB of free data.

“Free data means [the youth] can upgrade their digital skills, which will allow them to access employment opportunities,” said Tinyiko Simbine, co-founder and CFO of GirlCode.

However, Mdwaba said digitalisation came with challenges as well as opportunities. “Consider, for example, that we’re all vulnerable to cybersecurity breaches. At the same time, cybersecurity is a career opportunity.”

However, no amount of solutions will be effective unless SA can address its energy constraints, he added. 

Ultimately, the panel agreed there had to be a more co-ordinated approach that brought together private and public initiatives to address the digital divide. 

One such private initiative is Trailhead, Salesforce SA's free online learning platform, which offers bite-sized, conversational content aimed at making complex topics easy to understand. It is also personalised by role and level. This platform is available to anybody with an internet connection, effectively levelling the playing field to help reduce the digital divide and shape a more inclusive future. 

This article was paid for by Salesforce SA.