Global computer networking giant Cisco has made a commitment to train as many as 3-million African people in digital and cybersecurity skills.
At last month’s United States–Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC, hosted by US President Joe Biden, Cisco announced an in-kind contribution of $200-million for resources like curriculum, tools, schools, and instructors across the continent. Among other, Standard Bank chief executive Sim Tshabalala also delivered a presentation at the conference.
Fran Katsoudas, The Cisco executive vice president and chief people, policy and purpose officer, told the gathering that, by providing new skillsets to 3-million people, Cisco’s Networking Academy would expand Africa’s digital capabilities.
Since its inception 25 years ago, the Academy has taught more than 1.5-million learners in Africa – including 466,000 women – across 52 countries. In South Africa alone, 189,272 students have been trained since inception.
“When we look back at the Networking Academy’s first 25 years, we often point to the big numbers,” Katsoudas wrote recently. “17.5 million global learners in 190 countries and almost 12,000 academies with courses translated into 27 languages. What gets lost in these impressive numbers are the individual stories, the lives that have been changed by the education and skills that Networking Academy provides. What we may not see in the stats are the lived experiences of those who are often left out of the digital economy and already most impacted by economic inequality—women, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities.”
In an exclusive interview, Katsoudas said that Cisco recognised that the more that students are trained, and the more skills they acquired, the more they would uplift their own communities.
“it is something that we take very seriously and it’s something where we know that generations are impacted from those that are educated. Our Networking Academy hit its 25th anniversary just a couple of months ago and we’ve learned a lot. This confluence of a commitment to the continent, and the knowledge on the ground, knowing how to scale, knowing what’s most impactful, having the relationships with governments across the continent, we can get incredibly focused on the needs.”
The critical need in South Africa, she said, was increasing skills in Cybersecurity. Recent breaches of state institutions like Transnet and the Department of Justice have revealed both the skills gap and the vulnerability of the country to cyber attackers.
“South Africa was the very first country to say to us, about three years ago, ‘When you train, please focus on security’. At that time, the South African government gave us a number of students that they’d like to see trained in security. That was the first time we had seen that. I believe it was the first time that a government started to differentiate skills as it relates to impact on a community or to a country.
“Since then, we see governments around the world asking for help and so you will see our networking academies, getting a lot more surgical in our impact.”
Katsoudas was recently appointed to the US President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa (PAC-DBIA), which was set up to advise Biden on ways to strengthen commercial engagement between the United States and African countries. The Academy contributes significantly through providing a skills base for businesses across the continent.
“We know that globally, 17.5-million students have been through the Networking Academy since its inception. So there’s 17.5-million people that have a deeper understanding of technology and therefore, who can participate in the world today in a meaningful way.
“There’s work that’s been done by the team to look at when someone comes out of Networking Academy. what is the impact on their ability to get a job? What is the impact as it relates to further education? When we started looking at this, about four or five years ago, we could see 90% of our students landing in a job, or they’re going back to school.
“When someone goes through the Networking Academy, they automatically have the ability to go into something called the Talent Bridge. This is a place where we capture all of that technical talent at different levels. For some of the students it could just be two or three classes that they’ve taken. For others they may have the highest certification from a networking or security perspective.
“They go into a database and employers and our partners can go in and look at that talent. Whenever a student takes our courses, they go into this talent pool and partners around the world have the ability to hire and connect with this talent. That’s probably the biggest impact.
“This was a little bit of a pivot for us because in the past we would put a lot of focus on the number of students that have come through. Now the thing that we care most about is how many students are getting placed out of Talent Bridge.”
Katsoudas did not shy away from the global pullback in tech hiring. Amazon, for example, confirmed this week that it was laying off 18,000 people.
“We’ve recognised for a long time that there has to be a fluidity as it relates to talent,” she said. “And that is easier said than done. This whole concept of, you go to college, then you start your career, and you’re done with formal learning, those days are done.
“The layoffs that you’re seeing more broadly in the industry are a combination of things. We don’t hear many companies saying that they’re laying off because they don’t have the skills and the capabilities that they need, but that’s a portion of it. The concept of continually learning and doing a quick touch up on something we need to learn is the wave of the future and something we have to embrace.
“I do think that, for the students that are coming through Net Academy, they are learning the latest from a technology perspective, which is powerful for them and will position them well. Even though we are hearing a lot about the layoffs that are going on, an interesting fact is that today, 700,000 security jobs are still unfilled. And if I had talked to you two months ago, I would have said 600,000. So it’s growing.
“My sense is we can and will continue to train in the work that is needed, and hopefully continue to create that inclusive future for those people that perhaps do not have a college degree. One of the roles that we really enjoy is pointing amazing people to some education and training and then to the jobs of the future.”
* This story first appeared in the Sunday Times