Innovative approaches to education can open up tech opportunities to South African women
While South African women have made great strides over the years, they are still underrepresented in the local technology sector and alternative approaches to skills development are needed to drive tangible change. This includes partnerships between business and talent organisations to create innovative training programmes that not only fast-track their IT careers by blending theory with real-world experience, but also provides successful candidates with permanent employment upon completion.
Even as South Africa embraces the infusion of technology across multiple industries, a challenge locally is a critical shortage of tech skills, especially in software development, based on the needs of South Africa’s tech industry. Successfully tackling this challenge can act as the catalyst to solving the skills shortage, while bringing more women and youth into the formal workforce.
One such organisation intent on making a difference is redAcademy, a skills and experiential learning hub that specialises in teaching coding and technology skills. By partnering with South African businesses facing a massive skills gap, the organisation’s purpose is to build a sustainable tech talent pipeline for the future, thereby fulfilling local IT market recruitment needs.
Following the Cape Town-based organisation’s inaugural graduation ceremony in May, several young women were recruited into the Lewis Group’s software development house.
The team of women had no previous experience in coding or software development, and had varying degrees of exposure in the technology industry: Athenkosi Mhlekwa already completed a Higher Certificate in IT Support Service, Anita Notyhawe joined due to her interest in technology, while Silungile Dliso had no previous exposure to the field.
“I joined the tech industry because of my curiosity; I always wondered what makes my computer or ATMs work the way they do. I decided to learn programming and how to make things work. A challenge I faced at redAcademy was adapting to the organisation’s coding standards and methodologies, which I was able to overcome through tutorials with the architect,” says Notyhawe.
“At first it was hard because I did not have much background in tech but as time went on, I was able to do my work and understand what I am doing. The initial pressure of work meant that I had to plan a day before. Now, I enjoy what I am doing so it is easier for me to stay motivated,” adds Dliso.
With knowledge and experience gained from her first tech qualification, Mhlekwa already had a solid foundation in troubleshooting and assisting users with technical issues, but highlighted the benefits of redAcademy’s blended learning approach for the course candidates.
“Working on real projects exposed me to the complexities and uncertainties that are common in the software development industry. I had to navigate through real-world constraints, meet project deadlines, and collaborate effectively with team members, which posed unique challenges compared to the controlled environment of theoretical learning,” Mhlekwa explains.
With the first batch of successfully placed Sprinters including moms who drop their children off at school in the mornings before coming in to work, striking an optimal work-life balance has been key to excelling in their careers. Notyhawe points out that it is crucial to manage ones’ time wisely by planning and organising, Dliso says the key is setting boundaries between work and personal life, while Mkhelwa – a mother – speaks about the prioritisation of essential tasks in order to ensure they are completed on time.
By realising the real-world impact that they have by working on live projects, staying focused on their goals, and learning to enjoy what they were doing, these three women have overcome the odds to gain new skills and enter into permanent employment in the local private sector. And, they’re calling on more young South African women to pursue a career in software development and the technology sector at large.
“It is important to start now. Learn and practise with the resources you have and try to do online courses and attend tech workshops when you find one,” says Notyhawe, while Dliso adds “Focus, be brave and know your worth.”
“Women should not be scared of pursuing careers in software development or the tech industry. It’s crucial to remember that this field is not exclusive to men, and women have just as much potential to excel and make significant contributions,” says Mhlekwa, adding that the tech industry offers a vast array of resources for learning, such as online courses, workshops, and bootcamps – and that women must embrace these opportunities to grow and develop their expertise.
“Over the years, South African women have paved the way for us as females in a professional career. Following on this lead, redAcademy intends to grow the number of young South African women entering the workforce as technology professionals – and we’re calling on Corporate South Africa to play their part,” concludes Jessica Hawkey, Managing Director at redAcademy.