South Africa has a skills crisis. Though there is a shortage of skills across the board, skills in science, technology and engineering are especially lacking. However, unemployment remains high and young people leave school without the necessary competencies to meet employers’ requirements.
The government launched an intensive drive to harness and improve skills. Yet to study and become qualified in fields such as science, technology and engineering means good grades in math and science, subjects in which South African students do poorly. South Africa ranked the lowest of 45 countries that participated in the 2003 Trends in International Math and Science Studies assessment for grades 4 and 8.
Girls are at a disadvantage when it comes to technical professions. They are not encouraged to study or do well in traditionally male-dominated subjects such as math, science and technology. This compromises their future career opportunities and resigns them to lower paying jobs.
The Department of Education, with UNICEF support, started the Technogirls mentorship programme in 2005. The initiative, which is part of the Girls and Boys Education Movement, helps girls make informed career choices, with an emphasis on science, technology and engineering.
Technogirls identifies high achieving 15–18 year old school girls from disadvantaged communities, especially those coming from rural areas. The girls are placed in corporate mentorship and skills development programmes where they also benefit from academic scholarships. Career mentorship is important as it helps the students link what they learn at school with the skills needed to succeed in the business world.
Many participants have received university or college scholarships as a result. There are now more than 6,000 Techno Girls in all nine provinces and the Department for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, with UNICEF support, is scaling up the programme nationally.