Opinion: Job Creation through the Digital Artisan

Advances in technology bring efficiencies in production that threatens the job security of skilled labourers

August 16, 2011

By the GROW Academy.

With the Internet, however, could we see the emergence of a new type of artisan? The newly established GROW Academy seeks to create job opportunities through apprenticeships for school leavers and the unemployed who have a passion for web-based skills.

In a country with an alarmingly high unemployment rate, there’s actually a lot of work to do, especially in the ICT industry. The problem comes in where there aren’t enough people skilled to do the work. Surprisingly, the work doesn’t require a degree in computer science, and could be carried out effectively by someone with the right training.

This is where GROW Academy has identified the value of the ‘digital artisan’. Where traditional artisan opportunities are falling away, this initiative aims to provide apprenticeships for school leavers and the unemployed in web-based technologies. If everything works according to plan, accredited apprentices will be channelled into internships where they will have the opportunity to gain long term employment.

The five founders of the initiative all come from different backgrounds in the ICT industry. A common frustration with the lack of ICT skills in South Africa, as well as an inherent desire for social change, prompted the collaborators to find a practical solution. Their collective skills in web development, SEO, social media, mobile applications and online fundraising provide the necessary knowledge base for the academy.

The initiative was successfully piloted through a 5-day boot camp held in Khayelitsha in June. A six-week program kicks off in January 2012, with the intention of opening three campuses based in Bridge Town, Khayelitsha and Stellenbosch. With capacity to educate 300 applicants a year through the module-based program, graduates from the GROW Academy will be released into non-profit organisations for apprenticeships, followed by internships at commercial companies.

The initial industry response has been phenomenal. This is not just about doing something good for the community; it makes business sense by providing job applicants with demonstrable skills in sorely needed areas of technology. Most noticeably, the initiative is getting the school leavers excited about their futures. Recognising that they can bring a valuable skill to the job market helps them pursue a life beyond the drug and gang culture that so easily ensnares youth in their communities.

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