Cape Town must address skills gap to become tech hub

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Cape Town is South Africa’s startup hub, with almost 60 per cent of South Africa’s VC funds located in the city and 75 per cent of the country’s VC transactions made there.

A process that started with the launch of the Bandwidth Barn in 2001 has led to Cape Town now boasting the highest number of accelerator programmes in Africa, while the startup scene has spread across the Western Cape.

However, those in the know say Cape Town has a big obstacle to overcome if it is to set itself up as a tech hub for Africa as it intends to. That obstacle is skills.

Ian Merrington, chief executive officer (CEO) of the Cape IT Initiative (CiTi), says skills are the biggest constraint in Cape Town and the Western Cape.

“The school system is failing the demands of the new tech-enabled innovation economy. Government’s economic development strategy needs to prioritise the development of technology skills,” he said.

Ironically, technology could actually be the missing link in delivering relevant quality curriculum, which Merrington said is why CiTi has launched an Ed-Tech Open innovation Cluster.

“Both hybrid and online learning mitigate a number of South Africa’s current educational constraints, including quality content and relevant curriculum, quality teachers and lecturers, classroom size and also geographic constraints such as the ability to get to a place of learning,” he said.

“The rapid increase in connectivity and mobile content delivery can serve as a catalyst for online learning, however I do not see a big enough government commitment to ed-tech. External funders have an appetite to get involved in ed-tech, however they need to see government have skin in the game first and before they commit.”

Charlie Wright is co-founder of events marketplace Eventerprise, which initially launched in Cape Town. He says he feels more ought to be done at the tertiary level of education in South Africa to encourage on-the-job training, especially if young people plan to launch their own startups in future.

“There is no better way to apply what has been learned at school or university than getting into the trenches with entrepreneurs in a startup environment,” he said. “Incentives for startups that run successful internships and grants for interns would make a huge difference to the development of applied knowledge and innovative skills.”

Western Cape minister of economic opportunities Alan Winde said much has been done to improve the level of skills in Cape Town, and pointed to the fact that startups can access a skills pipeline from the four universities that sit within 70 kilometres of Cape Town’s CBD.

“As part of our skills game-changer, we are also focusing on improving maths outcomes at school level.  Through the Java Post-matric Programme, we are seeking to ensure that young coders are ready for the workplace,” he said.

“In this way we will continue to provide skills for the tech sector, and ensure that young people are able to take advantage of the opportunities in this rapidly growing sector.”

All valuable programmes, but most agree that more needs to be done if Cape Town is to take advantage of its many advantages to become a tech hub for South Africa and the rest of the continent.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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