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SONA highlighted the need to bridge the digital divide for youth dividends in South Africa

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CHIETA, the Chemical Industries Training and Education Authority, welcomes the call to action in the State of the Nation Address (SONA) to continue empowering the youth of our country.

Praising the success of initiatives like the youth Employment Tax Incentive (ETI), the Skills Development Levy (SDL), the National Skills Fund (NSF), the Youth Employment Service (YES) and the National Youth Services Programme, the President was clear that South Africa must be a country in which the same opportunities are available to every child, “whether they are born in Sandton, in Mdantsane, in Sekhukhune, in Mitchell’s Plain or in Phoenix”.

Mindful that South Africa has 4,6 million unemployed youth in the country, CHIETA as a statutory body with a mandate to facilitate skills development, education, and training in the chemical industry, is committed to working towards bridging the digital gaps to a better, connected South Africa.

Yershen Pillay, CHIETA CEO says: “In line with the President’s call, we are proud that an important pillar of CHIETA’s vision is to overcome the difficulty that many communities in South Africa, predominantly in rural areas, have in accessing digital skills and opportunities. These rural communities often lack basic connectivity, and grinding poverty means that basic equipment like laptops or cellphones are not readily available.”  Pillay believes that these brute facts rob not only rural youth of opportunities, but also starve the economy of brainpower and motivation. “Bridging this digital divide is crucial on multiple levels,” he says.

It’s this realisation that lies behind CHIETA’s novel scheme to create nine smart skills centres, one in each province, with the ultimate aim of setting up many more once the concept has gained traction. The thinking is to provide rural communities, and particularly their unemployed young people, with a way to gain vital digital experience and proficiency, and use the technology to gain a foothold in the economy by using it to access job and partnership opportunities.

Smart skills centres have already been set up in Saldanha Bay, Gqeberha and Babanango. The next one to be launched will be in the Highveld Industrial Park in Mpumalanga, on the site of the former Highveld Steel and Vanadium factory.

While the centres come in different sizes depending on the communities they serve, they all feature several pods in which virtual reality and augmented reality technologies can be used, with other pods providing laptops for surfing the internet, doing training or even job interviews. Connectivity and data are also provided.

“Just getting people familiar with, and confident in using, technology is definitely part of making them work-ready,” he says.

Pillay also welcomed the President’s commitment to renewable energy, especially implementing a just energy transition, not only to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change, but to create growth and jobs for our own people.

CHIETA is committed to the just transition ensuring that through these initiatives we will be part of the solution to create thousands of jobs in renewable energy, green hydrogen, green steel, electric vehicles, and other green products.

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