Companies develop STEM skills as need to help SA tackle energy crisis grows


As South Africa continues to face an energy crisis, the urgent call for more science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills increases with each cycle of load shedding.

In August, struggling power producer Eskom announced it would hone its workforce in a bid to reduce load shedding. Eskom and the SA Renewable Energy Technology Center announced that they will be working on a collaborative effort that “aims to train and develop staff at the Komati Power Plant and qualify members of the community around the Power Plant to become artisans of renewable energies”.

“It has become clear that STEM industries need skilled workers, who are equipped to design, develop, execute and manage renewable energy programs,” said Mustafa Soylu, CEO of Defy Appliances.

Soylu said sophistication in this area is relevant in our unique socio-economic context, with South Africa notoriously having the highest Gini coefficient (an indicator of economic inequality, measuring income distribution) in the world. He added:

Our country faces a growing gap in wealth and opportunity.

“This is a gap that training and education can serve to fill, especially in STEM careers that are characterized by their ability to pay a living wage, thus fighting poverty.”

Unesco 2017 Cracking the code: Girls’ and women’s education in STEM report states that only 35% of STEM students in higher education globally are women. Young women also make up only 25% of engineering or information and communication technology (ICT) students.

In South Africa, according to skills portal, only 13% of graduates from higher education institutions with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are women.

No quick fix

Soylu said that in the context of South Africa, this will not be an easy undertaking.

“Succeeding the transition to a more sustainable and equitable energy system requires a long-term commitment from all stakeholders,” he said.

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“We must ensure that any solutions to the energy crisis are socially responsible and sustainable, in that they benefit the individual and the community, as well as the wider environment.”

Companies that take the initiative

To this end, Defy’s WE-InTech provides training, internships and employment opportunities for women pursuing careers in STEM fields.

“The initiative is focused on increasing participation in next-generation research and development, providing a sustainable solution that will help build a more inclusive economy,” he said.

On Monday, Vodacom kicked off this year’s installment of the #CodeLikeAGirl program which will see 250 girls aged 14-18 receive coding training from October 3-7 in the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Gauteng provinces.

Njabulo Mashigo, Human Resources Director of Vodacom SA, said:

Women continue to be excluded from equal participation in STEM and ICT careers.

“The reasons for this are lack of career opportunities, gender bias and role models to aspire to.”

This year, the company is working with Microsoft SA, which has contributed $40,000 (over R700,000) to this year’s initiative to “ensure the program reaches more school-going girls from disadvantaged backgrounds”.

“Industry-backed initiatives like #CodeLikeAGirl therefore serve an important purpose in building girls’ confidence in STEM, exposing them to women working in tech, and empowering them through education and coding skills. “, said Mashigo.

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Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) goIT program“gives students the skills, confidence and mindset they need to pursue the careers of the future, providing training in robotics as well as mentorship from industry leaders and TCS professionals. While the Girls Who Code program exposes female students to the world of coding and development technology.

“The future of sustainable innovation can only be secured with diverse and equal participation of male and female scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians,” said Rochelle Elmirinthia Blaauw, Head of Skills Development and Localization at TCS.

Blaau said:

Reducing the STEM skills shortage should not just be an educational requirement, but a mandate for the country’s growth.

“Equal exposure to STEM subjects is the gateway to a more diverse and sustainable fourth industrial revolution,” Blaauw said.

Sasol also offers programs aimed at addressing the STEM skills shortage in the country. The Sasol Foundation”offers an all-inclusive scholarship for talented individuals who plan to study full-time towards an undergraduate degree to pursue a career in STEM”.

The WAAW Foundation Scholarship has also offers support for African female students studying in STEM fields “to increase the number of African women entering science and technology fields and ensure that they are engaged in technological innovation and entrepreneurship for the benefit of Africa “.

Protec is another organization aiming to help address STEM skills issues in the country. The NPO“provides high-quality, holistic education and career support program development in math, science, technology, English, and the world of career and personal training.”

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