With support, the young and ambitious in Africa are overcoming poverty and other hardships to the benefit of entire families, communities, and countries.

For Athenkosi Mali, the shock still sits deep. He knows it could have been him that lay in a pool of blood on the streets of his hometown of Stutterheim, South Africa. It has only been three months since his best friend, Xolisa Tom, age 27, was struck by a bullet during protests. The fateful shot was discharged during a clash between police and youth protesting the lack of jobs and alleged local corruption. His friend was eventually taken to the hospital, but it was too late to save him.

Being young and black in Stutterheim typically means living in poverty with precious few opportunities to break out of the vicious cycle through work or education. The agricultural town of 47,000 is located in the Eastern Cape, one of South Africa’s poorest regions, with an unemployment rate of 46 percent, the nation’s highest.


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Africa’s Challenge: The Skills Gap

South Africa’s unemployed youth are part of an Africa-wide problem. Sixty percent of all unemployed on the continent are young people, with about 10 million entering the labor market each year. A mismatch of skills to jobs is expected to deepen the crisis, making projects based on education and opportunity that help build a brighter future for Africa’s young women and men even more urgent.

Xolisa and Athenkosi give names and faces to Africa’s transition to global player in the digital economy. A young professional working as an IT consultant for Africa’s largest food retailer, Shoprite Checkers, Athenkosi is on a path to a life of prosperity and security that his parents could only dream of.

But life can be fragile for black South Africans, and Athenkosi’s life thus far has also not been without great struggle. At the age of 22, during his first year of studies at the University of the Western Cape, his father was killed in an automobile accident. “He was a proud man with a strong work ethic,” says Athenkosi. The tragic loss left his mother, brother, and two sisters without the family breadwinner and in an environment that made them vulnerable.

Athenkosi Lifts Himself Up

As the oldest sibling, Athenkosi felt responsible to fill the gap left by his father. “I had to finish my studies and make sure that I got a good job to support my family,” he recalls. He says intrinsic motivation helped him to remain focused on his studies through this difficult period.

The environment in the sprawling township of Khayelitsha near Cape Town is not conducive to studying or building a career, and even minor setbacks can foil the plans of young South Africans. “While I was studying, my life was very hectic, and where I was living was not a pleasant place,” explains Athenkosi. “There was no security there, people are drinking, and there was no time to study.”

But Athenkosi dug in and called up all of his inner strength. In 2016, he completed a bachelor’s degree in commerce, double majoring in information systems and management. This put him on the job market, but still without the experience and practical skills needed to land a position in IT.

Without many job prospects, Athenkosi took a chance and qualified for a scholarship with the SAP Skills for Africa program. Through the initiative, recent university graduates undergo an intensive three-month training program in SAP business skills. Upon completion, they enter jobs with local SAP customers and partners as SAP associate consultants.

Companies are eager to take them. According to a 2017 survey from the Technical University of Munich, 90 percent of companies regard digital transformation as important for their business strategy, but 64 percent say they don’t have the skills necessary for this transformation. Only 16 percent state they have implemented a recruitment or training program to close the skills gap.

Athenkosi Lifts His Family Up

For Athenkosi, the program was a ticket to a steady job at Shoprite’s main office in Cape Town, where he is currently a junior SAP retail consultant, supporting the management of stock in the stores.

“SAP Skills for Africa has helped my career big time,” he says. “It has also raised my self-confidence and the confidence that I can sell my skills.” But Athenkosi is not resting on his laurels. He is already back at the university in his free time earning his honors degree.

By landing a job with Shoprite, Athenkosi has been able to come through both for himself and his family. His regular income enabled him to buy a small house for his mother in the Mlungisi Township of Stutterheim, where she and his younger siblings could live safely and comfortably. He also moved his sister to his modest home in Cape Town, where she is training to become a nurse. And as soon as his brother completes high school, he will move in with Athenkosi to pursue higher education.

“It makes me feel very good to do something for my family because they are one of my top priorities at the moment,” says Athenkosi, who was the first person in is family to attain higher education. “Seeing the house and seeing all the people inside it makes my heart smile.”

For the SAP Skills for Africa program, it’s typical that entire communities are impacted, not just the graduates. Because of the strength of family clans, when one person finds a stable job, they are often able to make a positive impact on up to 40 people.

Athenkosi Makes His Father Smile

Through his perseverance, Athenkosi has already achieved a lot in his lifetime and he is looking forward to good things. “The future is in my hands — my career is going well, so I am very confident about the future,” he says.

He measures his success by wondering how his father would see him: “My father raised us to stand up and work for ourselves. I have to make sure he smiles wherever he sees the hard work that I am doing.”

His father must be smiling from ear to ear.

About SAP Skills for Africa

The SAP Skills for Africa program is a skills development and job creation initiative that tackles the pressing issues of our times, including youth unemployment and digital skills gap. The program, free of charge for its participants, was introduced to assist with developing certified SAP associate consultants with the intention of bringing SAP business skills to those who have a cultural and social understanding of a region. The program is part of SAP’s ongoing commitment to closing the skills gap and runs in a total of 22 countries worldwide as SAP Young Professionals program under the umbrella of the SAP Training and Development Institute.

“SAP finds the brightest and the smartest and deploys them in the digital age,” says Marita Mitschein, managing director, SAP Training and Development Institute. “It won’t cure the problem of youth unemployment, but it makes an impact. We have a placement rate of almost 100 percent and a waiting list of companies that want to hire these young talents.”

Mitschein calls it a quadruple-win program: Youth find a job, customers and partners find brilliant talent, SAP enhances its ecosystem, and countries benefit.

Founded in November 2012, SAP Training and Development Institute offers initiatives that help young recruits kick-start their tech careers within the ecosystem of SAP customers and partners. It also serves as think tank for knowledge exchange, entrepreneurship, and innovation. Through various initiatives, the institute helps individuals and organizations to thrive in the digital economy.


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