Investment in the digital economy is important


President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address focused on attracting investments into South Africa and drive economic growth to address critical structural challenges such as chronic unemployment, poverty and inequality. There is no doubt that the efficacy of this drive is intrinsically tied to embracing the fourth industrial revolution or we risk becoming uncompetitive and irrelevant both locally and globally.

There is a very strong appreciation for this in the private sector, with our customers all advanced in their understanding of what needs to happen. In all our interactions with business, it is no longer a case of “what and when” in order to participate in the digital economy, but rather a case of “how and now”. At Oracle we are able to navigate the “how” with customers by bringing our industry knowledge and focus into strategic discussions around cloud computing being an enabler of digital transformation.

In 2019, if you are digitally ambivalent you will become irrelevant from an economy perspective. Digital literacy in every shape and form is crucial. Companies and government departments face the unique and exciting opportunity of emerging from inefficient and rudimentary processes to where they are able to unleash the power of cloud computing, which makes it far more efficient to automate and streamline services.

The leading economies in the world have invested significant resources into digital research and skills and in many cases their service delivery is augmented with digital capabilities. This needs to happen in South Africa – it will revolutionise skills and advance existing skills which speaks directly to the structural challenges in the economy.

At Oracle we believe that this should be driven by both government and the private sector. We should align towards developing real, valuable skills that are needed as our economy becomes deeper entrenched in the digital realm.

Obviously, there are hard skills such as coding and data analytics, and these skills are crucial and must be developed at a rapid pace. However, there are also soft skills that are equally vital to survive the rapid digitisation and remain competitive. The ability to adapt, evolve, learn new skills and change processes is vital.

Therefore, if we have a nimble workforce, capable of adapting to, using and working with new technologies, we have ticked a vital box in the employability of our population generally, and youth specifically. The drive to close the skills gap cannot be about a line item of having to invest a certain portion on skills development because legislation says so.

It has to be in the ethos and value system of how you operate, because then it is aligned to your strategic vision and in turn will have a meaningful impact for society at large and a measurable effect on your own bottom line. A good way to illustrate this point is the career opportunities we created for young South Africans with our graduate programme.

Every year the Oracle Graduate Leadership Programme takes in previously disadvantaged graduates to address the critical skills shortage in our industry. By developing the hard and soft skills needed to succeed in the digital world, we are creating a future skills pipeline for Oracle and the wider ICT community. It is satisfying to look back at the success of this programme over the past few years – the graduates have come in, have been upskilled, sent into the market and 100% of them have found relevant jobs at our partners and customers.

Before we start training these youngsters, we ask our partners and customers what they need and then we build the right skills, relevant for the market. This actively and strategically closes the skills gap all the while providing much needed employment. Looked at like this, it becomes evident why an alignment between all partners and competitors will have an exponential effect.

The commitment to skills development needs to be broad-based. The way we are tackling this is by actively pursuing interventions at various levels in the education system. To support the graduate programme we also have a five-year partnership with the Western Cape Education Department and an ongoing training plan with the department as well as the Curro schools network. The Oracle Academy curriculum is mapped to the SAQF national standards of education and we have members ranging from schools, universities and universities of technology.

The truth is, we send our children to school today not knowing what the skills requirements of the future will be. But we do know how to prepare them for this rapidly changing world, and it is our responsibility to do so. Businesses appreciate the President’s initiative to attract investment and drive growth. However, for an economic prosperity wish list to become a reality, this must be complemented with a close working relationship between government and business. This proactive approach is how a vibrant and dynamic country such as South Africa will chart a course of immense opportunity.

Niral Patel is the Managing Director and Technology Leader for Oracle South Africa.