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Cisco, ITU look to boost digital skills in Africa

Cisco, ITU look to boost digital skills in Africa

Global networking solutions giant Cisco and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) have joined forces to tackle the digital skills gap, and Africa has been named as one of regions in which to kick-start this initiative.

The organisations made the announcement at the ITU Telecom World 2019 conference held in Budapest, Hungary, this week.

With the advent of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), organisations and governments the world over have emphasised the importance of equipping citizens with the necessary skills to thrive in a digital society.

Through what they refer to as Digital Transformation Centres, Cisco and ITU plan to work with a network of institutions to run digital skills training programmes in specific tech areas.

The organisations have stressed the importance of a multi-stakeholder partnership in order for the initiative to succeed.

ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao elaborates: "We are proud to partner with Cisco to enhance digital literacy.

"We call on governments, the private sector, development agencies, local communities and other stakeholders to help us advance this initiative. Join us to boost digital skills to facilitate the digital transformation journey and accelerate the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals."

Phased approach

To kick-start the initiative, Cisco and ITU will identify 10 digital transformation centres to participate in the first phase, which will run for 18 months starting in January 2020.

The centres selected will be located in the Americas, Africa and Asia-Pacific regions, they highlight.

Explaining who the initiative targets, Cisco and ITU say it is aimed at people who need basic digital skills to use digital tools and access e-services, and those who seek to enhance their basic and intermediate skills.

Further, it targets entrepreneurs who wish to develop their businesses, and it assists policy-makers in the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes related to digital skills, with the overall objective of enabling a successful national digital transformation process.

Both Cisco and ITU emphasise that providing digital skills training is key to bridging the digital divide.

"Digital skills are needed at all levels: at the basic level, to help people connect and benefit from Internet services and applications; at the intermediate level, to help students and job-seekers get the necessary skills required by the digital economy; and at the advanced level to increase the pool of ICT experts and meet the demands of the industry."

According to Cisco, the Digital Transformation Centres Initiative builds on the existing collaboration between the organisations.

"We are excited to partner with ITU on the Digital Transformation Centre Initiative, which will leverage the Cisco Networking Academy to prepare individuals with skills in technology as well as in entrepreneurial areas where project-based learning and design thinking are critical," says Laura Quintana, VP and GM of the Cisco Networking Academy.

"Cisco's objective is to help countries transform digitally and accelerate economic growth, and the collaboration between Cisco and ITU will be key to providing the needed human capital to support that transformation."

Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, adds: "Today, half the world is online, but raw connectivity alone will not solve development challenges.

"Research shows that lack of digital knowledge and skills has emerged as a major barrier to Internet uptake, digital inclusion and digital transformation, especially in developing countries.

"The Digital Transformation Centres Initiative is designed to strengthen the effectiveness of current activities in the field of capacity development by providing training programmes to meet and address local needs, and address technology trends, developments and gaps. It is also a step forward to help our membership implement their regional initiatives in this field."

The Digital Transformation Centres Initiative is expected to complement the existing work of the ITU Centres of Excellence network, which provides training to ICT professionals as well as the existing ITU efforts in enabling digital transformation at national and regional levels.

Digital community

This initiative comes shortly after the US-based networking solutions firm announced a R140 million investment to support the digitisation of SA.

It has been stated that the investment will focus on three key areas: job creation through Cisco incubation centres, skills and talent development, and national cyber security.

South Africa's government, private sector and industry commentators have ramped up calls for an increased focus on skills development to take the country through the next digital revolution.

Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, whose Department of Communications and Digital Technologies is coordinating government's 4IR programme, and Cisco's Clayton Naidoo signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) outlining key areas of co-operation for SA's digital future.

The MOU forms part of Cisco's Country Digital Acceleration (CDA) initiative, and contributes to SA's National Development Plan 2030, according to the company.

Cisco CDA is a global programme aimed at accelerating national digitisation agendas to support job creation, innovation, and help drive economic growth and sustainable and equitable communities.

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