Affordable and accessible education must digitally empower South Africans


As the Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in an age of extraordinary change, we must ensure that employees are able to proactively upskill themselves to prepare for jobs in the burgeoning digital economy. Popular theory suggests that today’s primary school children have a 65% chance of working in a career that does not yet exist. According to The Future of Jobs, a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), over a third of the occupations by 2020 will require cross-functional capabilities not yet considered crucial for the jobs of today.

Impact on South Africa

In the South African context, the workforce faces the challenge of accommodating a growing middle class, a large contingent of unemployed youth, and the growth of mobile and Web-based learning.  Globally, we are seeing technological advancements such as advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, all of which are accelerating the pace of change and driving the need for a new set of digital skills. Compounding this is (as well as presenting work opportunities), are ongoing security challenges and transitioning to more software-driven networks.

The ‘new reality’ of the digital economy is that the interplay between advancing technologies and socio-economic forces will render some roles redundant whilst creating completely new career categories. The workplace of the future and the roles it will contain will continue to evolve as innovation continues unabated. As a result, employees and aspiring workers need to embrace opportunities for ongoing learning and skills development that best prepare them for roles that support high-growth areas such as the Internet of Things (IoT), and maintaining the underlying security behind all communications and networks.

In order for South Africa to remain competitive with other comparable markets, access to affordable and accessible digital skills education is required. Educational institutions – in collaboration with the private and public sectors – have a huge role to play in helping to produce more graduates who can meet the need for high-pay, high-skill jobs that come with the digital transformation of the economy. According to the 2016 ITWeb/CareerWeb IT Salary Survey, tech professionals in South Africa have seen double-digit year-on-year growth in salaries. For non-management roles, the highest paying roles include those of software engineers and system architects.

SA target: 100,000 more digital grads by 2020

For the past 20 years, the Cisco Networking Academy (NetAcad) has demonstrated the power of partnerships to digitally empower employees. Run in collaboration with over 9,600 educational institutes and 22,000 educators worldwide, NetAcad has helped 7.8 million graduates since its inception. In South Africa, NetAcad trained 8500 students last year, with 92% of students completing their goals – landing a new job or opportunity at work. Since its inception in the country, NetAcad South Africa has seen over 80,000 graduates through the programme (29% of whom are female), placing the country among the top-20 countries participating in NetAcad. 

Since being launched in South Africa in 1997, more than 70 Networking Academies have been established in the country in partnership with schools, Technical and Vocational Education and Training Colleges (TVETs), and universities, as well as in non-traditional educational environments such as prisons, homeless shelters, schools for the blind, and innovation hubs. Supporting Cisco’s Country Digital Acceleration Strategy – long-term partnerships with governments, industry and academia to accelerate a nation’s digitisation agenda – NetAcad provides reskilling resources required to undertake this journey.

To help South Africans develop relevant digital skills, Cisco recently launched eight free online courses as part of training an additional 100 000 graduates by 2020 through the NetAcad. Recognising education as a life-long requirement – whether mid-career or starting out in the workforce – NetAcad offers a range of options in terms of how learning takes place, whether self-paced, online or a blended environment (a combination of formal/traditional classroom and informal/digital media instruction). For the eight new self-enrol courses, there is also a wide variety of topics available from entrepreneurship to IoT to cybersecurity essentials.

Digital skills are a requirement in the new economy and the need will not slow down. As the South African economy looks to develop and support more specialised roles in the evolving workforce, a fresh approach to education and the workplace is required to reach the widest range of people, and in ways that are simple to access and affordable. Acquiring and refreshing digital skills cannot be underestimated in employees maximising their value and career potential. As a global leader in the ICT sector and an active player in the digital transformation of South Africa’s economy, Cisco is proud of its role in supporting NetAcad as a digital skills development platform. 


By: Cathy Smith, Managing Director - Cisco Sub-Saharan Africa


Accenture on digital transformation in Africa:

Singapore’s Smart Nation Drive:

About Cisco

Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) is the worldwide technology leader that has been making the Internet work since 1984. Our people, products, and partners help society securely connect and seize tomorrow’s digital opportunity today. Discover more at and follow us on Twitter at @Cisco.

Cisco, the Cisco logo, Cisco Systems and Cisco IOS are registered trademarks or trademarks of Cisco Systems, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the United States and certain other countries. All other trademarks mentioned in this document are the property of their respective owners. The use of the word partner does not imply a partnership relationship between Cisco and any other company. This document is Cisco Public Information.