South African girls get head start in technology


    24 June 2015

    A national skills programme is changing the lives of young South African women and is proving that no job is too tough for girls.

    Through programmes such as Techno Girls, the country is making progress in enforcing the inclusion of women in industries such as information and communications technology (ICT).

    According to statistics released by the Institute of Information Technology Professionals, women make up more than half of South Africa’s entire workforce but only 20% of them are in ICT. Now a public private partnership wants to change that.

    The Ministry in the Presidency Responsible for Women, the Department of Basic Education, Unicef, the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) and Uweso Consulting have partnered to implement the Techno Girls programme, which is aimed at addressing the gender gap in sectors that are traditionally male dominated.

    University of Pretoria student Lerato Mhlongo took part in the Techno Girls programme, which has brought her one step closer to achieving her dream of being an information broker.

    Job shadowing and mentoring

    When most teenagers were spending time with friends during the school holidays, Mhlongo was job shadowing at Airports Company South Africa (Acsa).

    “During the job, shadowing the company provided me with money for transport and food,” Mhlongo says.

    The time spent at Acsa instilled a belief in Mhlongo that she had the power to achieve her dreams as she was surrounded by ambitious women who always motivated her to believe in herself. One of the most valuable lessons she learned from her mentors was that there was no obstacle that was greater than her abilities.

    “They also encouraged me, telling that there’s no career specifically meant for men and there was nothing that could stop me from being who I wanted to be,” Mhlongo says.

    She has nothing but praise for the programme, saying it helped her improve her self-esteem.

    When Mhlongo joined Techno Girls, she wanted to study civil engineering but she later changed her mind about her career choice when she attended a career guidance session.

    Instead, she has opted to study for a Bachelor of Science degree in information science, because she regards this as a critical course that exposes her to economics, business, and information.

    Innovation leads the way

    “We are living in a world of innovation. Things change. There’s no longer a market for people who are doing the same thing. I love the course because I get to gain a lot of knowledge. Once you gain knowledge about a certain thing, you tend to be confident about how you live your life. Your values change and the way you see things changes as well.

    “So doing this degree makes me see life in a different perspective which helps me to structure my life in a way which will help me reach my goals,” she says.

    Mhlongo – who also credits her mother and teachers for motivating her to always perform to the best of her abilities in her studies – is planning to do her honours degree next year and has started to apply for internship programmes.

    “I believe if you get support in life, then you also have to make an effort to get to where people are trying to get you.”

    Careers in Stem fields

    Uweso Consulting programme manager Andolene Hofmeyer says the Techno Girls programme is an innovative job shadowing programme for girls to encourage the uptake of careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The programme has two components, namely Techno Girl Job Shadowing and the Techno Girl Alumni.

    “The job shadowing is implemented over a period of three years for 15 days per annum over the period,” Hofmeyer says.

    The Techno Girl Alumni Association continues to support beneficiaries who have completed the programme and are furthering their education at higher education institutions to ensure a high completion rate of studies for the women.

    Mhlongo is one of 19 young women who are part of the Techno Alumni programme and are studying towards a qualification for a career in the ICT sector.

    “Given South Africa’s youthful population, young people constitute a priority audience for opportunities aimed at economic growth, increased employment and poverty reduction.”

    Hofmeyer says the National Development Plan aims to promote initiatives that offer young people access to higher education, skills development and training opportunities.

    Mhlongo is also a recipient of the National Students Financial Aid Scheme.

    More than 9 000 girls have benefited from the Techno Girls programme since it was piloted in 2005. The programme currently has more than 2 700 girls in job shadowing.

    Government initiatives

    It is part of a wider move to raise the involvement of women in the sector. In 2014, the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services launched the Women in ICT forum. Deputy Minister of Telecommunications Hlengiwe Mkhize says women in the ICT sector are responsible for transforming the sector.

    “When submissions are made, I must have a clear map when I have to make recommendations to the minister in a moment of need for a director; I must be able to say no, in this division we can’t have a man because I am supposed to be a transformation hub and make sure it’s happening,” Mkhize says.

    In another move to improve the livelihoods of young girls and women, the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services has partnered with Telkom, Intel, Deloitte and School Net to develop an interactive website for the women in the community of Tlhabane, Rustenburg.

    The platform has been established to assist more women to access ICT services.

    The website will have information about the community and an interactive chat medium for women to communicate with each other, allowing a support structure to be formed for its users.

    Emang Basadi advocacy and lobby executive director Bosa Ledwaba says the website had been developed to help women to address issues of domestic violence and crime.

    Ledwaba says as part of the programme, about 50 girls and women have received digital literacy training as part of the Lwazi Digital Literacy Training project. Recipients of the projects will also be taught how ICT can enhance and improve their lives, and how to access information and support through technology.

    The ICT sector reportedly contributes no less than 6% to the country’s gross domestic product.