Women are underrepresented in South Africa's ICT sector and already at university level there are fewer female students pursuing a career in ICT and telecommunications – something the government needs to urgently address says the country's deputy minister of communications Pinky Kekana.
Speaking to ITWeb Africa on the sidelines of the Experience Micro Focus Universe 2019 event hosted yesterday in Johannesburg, the deputy minister asked: "Why are we losing them? Is it because women are afraid to get to know new things or is it because the support systems around them grapple with issues of technology and that is a challenge?"
She believes Micro Focus' approach in bridging the old with the new in terms of technology is sound because it reduces the 'fear factor' associated with new technologies and systems.
She also urged women to take up ICT's opportunity to reskill and upskill themselves, and emphasised the importance of collaboration between business and government.
"Government broadly has created an enabling environment through our policies, through our regulatory framework to encourage investment broadly into South Africa. But one of the things we see coming out nicely is where the private sector partners with government, to also assist in areas where government is unable to," said Kekana.
This level of collaboration is required if the sector is to address the issue of a shortage of technical skills.
According to the deputy minister, the department has met with all the top players in the sector, all of whom acknowledged the issue of a shortage in technical skills.
"So government, alongside the private sector, need to hold hands to make sure we are ready, because 4IR is here, but we must create an enabling environment to be responsive and agile, so that our communities are not left behind."
She added that President Cyril Ramaphosa has underlined the availability of skills and its impact on South Africa's (and Africa's) readiness to exploit the opportunities related to 4IR.
"If you look at the way the 4IR commission is constituted, you have big corporates, CEOs, captains of industry, academic, labour all playing a role... it is a combination of various experiences into the commission to say 'what kind of a fourth industrial revolution programme do we want to see, that is South African informed, that responds to the economy of South Africa, and will help us to shape the future, the future of jobs."
Kekana said the department will champion 4IR and its development, and said an inter-ministerial committee has been established to drive technology awareness into communities, with specific attention to key sectors like agriculture.
At the event, Poppy Tshabalala, vice principal: ICT & CIO at the University of South Africa (UNISA), said while 4IR remains a buzzword for the most part, more emphasis needs to be placed on understanding digitisation in the South African context.
"I joined UNISA because of the strategy of open e-distance learning, and I thought in simple terms that's 'digitisation'. By 2030 we should have fully fledged online systems through which you can study, assess and do exams anywhere without even seeing the lecture. That's fourth industrial revolution, but when you come in, you realise that the gap is that big."
Tshabalala said it's not just about 'plugging in technology', there needs to be change management and training, and the ability to "get everyone to move with you".
The vice principal said while the country should aspire to become technologically advanced, it cannot afford to lose itself or its identity in the race for technology and should advance in a "steady but stable" way.