Could cybersecurity address Africa's youth unemployment?
Updated: May 9
Today I was able to discuss diversity with 3 incredibly inspiring female powerhouses from Google, Red Hat, and Fortinet. We all unanimously agreed that we need to speak out more about the challenges African women face when it comes to participating in digitization. A bit later on, I had a meeting with two male security veterans who are just as passionate about making a difference to young women on the continent and wanting to identify programs and initiatives that address Africa’s digital gender gap as well as solve the cyber security skill shortage by upskilling Africa’s youth.
South Africa's unemployment rate amongst those aged 15-24 is 63%
According to the Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) of the 1st quarter of 2021, the official unemployment rate in South Africa was 32,6%. Shockingly, the rate amongst those aged 15–24 is 63%. This number is absolutely heartbreaking. Some of those young people went to university and have degrees, yet are unable to find employment.
On the flip side, as anyone working in cybersecurity knows, the skill shortage is one of the industry's top pain points with global IT security vacancies, expected to rise to 10 million by 2023.
Given the need for skilled cybersecurity professionals and an untapped pool of young talent that needs development, there is an opportunity to address our youth unemployment while filling a much-needed gap. By targeting young girls specifically to pursue a career in tech or cyber, it may also help make a dent in the digital gender divide. So we brainstormed a few ideas of how we and the organisations we work for could make a difference.
The things we talked about were:
Can we use networks and contacts to influence decision-makers about systemic changes needed in education systems and policies? Since more awareness is necessary around the negative impact the digital gender gap has on our economies we spoke about tapping into our organization's network to influence.
In our 2020 "Tomorrow's Cyber Heroines" survey across 445 African teachers, sharing stories of African women in tech as role models was listed as one of the top interventions that could attract young girls into tech. So we discussed creating beautiful and inspiring video content (think along the lines of Nike's inspiring "Dream Crazier" videos) showcasing African female role models.
We need to remove existing barriers along the lines of "I don't know how to use technology" or "I don't how to protect myself online" by creating digital literacy and more basic consumer security awareness.
Education Content Creation and Curating:
Cyber education needs to be brought into Africa’s schools. A lot of free material is available but will have to be curated and distributed to the relevant institutions and teachers. “Train the Trainer” (or rather the teacher) is necessary to equip educators.
Mastercards Girls4Tech is a great resource of free material targeted at teachers. Girls4Tech is an educational program built to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers through a fun, engaging curriculum that includes topics such as encryption, biometrics, fraud detection, and detective work — all of these are great skills needed for cybersecurity.
African tertiary institutions should expand their course libraries to cover topical cybersecurity themes
We also chatted about creating foundation courses that prepare students without any technical background. These “foundational” courses could be delivered via tertiary institutions or some other learning platform.
For example preparing students for the HLayer Security Awareness and Culture Professional (SACP)™ certification, which is a credential for professionals responsible for creating and maintaining the human layer of cybersecurity. The SACP covers building a security culture and changing human behavior to address the threat of social engineering. It does not require any technical background yet covers defending against one of the most prolific threats of our times.
Obviously, there should be technical foundational courses too, such as basics in networking, offensive, and defensive security tools as well as basics in risk management, compliance and other security processes.
Collaborating with existing groups:
We spoke about connecting students to organizations that sponsor bursaries for the above or other formal security education. And identifying collaboration opportunities with or supporting existing initiatives.
For example, connecting students with security volunteering groups such as the Cyber Peace Institute might expose them to other senior security professionals and practical experience. A bit like internship programs that allow learning on the job. This is sometimes the best way of gaining and building up one’s skillsets.
There are existing African and international networking groups that are interesting to explore either supporting or collaborating with, such as:
Nigeria-based Cybersafe Foundation which runs the CyberGirls initiative. This is a 1-year fellowship program that aims equipping girls aged 15-21 years old with globally sought-after cybersecurity skills and help them seize work opportunities within Nigeria and across the world.
South Africa-based Girl Code runs multiple initiatives aimed at girls such as 6-month weekends, hands-on and in-person training workshops, a nationwide network of volunteer-led, weekend coding clubs for high school girls who want to have a strong foundation in basic programming skills, and various hackathon competitions.
SheLovesData organizes webinars and workshops that help women become data and digitally literate, provide mentorship, soft skills development, and networking opportunities. SheLovesData originated in Singapore but they seem to be active in South Africa and Nigeria too.
Women in Security & Resilience Alliance (WISECRA) – This is a LinkedIn Group with over 7000 members in the Cybersecurity & Resilience space dedicated to supporting women in tech
African Women in Cybersecurity (AFWIC) exists to promote collaboration among women of African descent in the cybersecurity industry and women aspiring to embrace cybersecurity as a career. It is now part of the WISECRA group above.
Women in Cyber Security – African chapters. The WiCyS is a global community of women, allies, and advocates, dedicated to bringing talented women together to foster their passion and drive for cybersecurity.
She Secures is a community for women professionals and enthusiasts in cybersecurity. Their aim is to actively grow their community of young African women to bridge the gender gap in cybersecurity.
@shehacks_ke brings together a community of some of the best ladies in information security in Kenya.
The Diana Initiative is a non-profit corporation that encourages diversity and supports women who want to pursue a career in information security. The initiative also provides scholarships to three students for its annual conference.
HackSouth - is a South Africa-based Discord community that aims to be a safe place for cyber security professionals, students, enthusiasts, researchers, and curious minds to come together and share their collective insight, advice, and guidance.
Cyber Security Experts Association of Nigeria is a nonprofit championing cyber security awareness and adoption in Nigeria @cyberexpertsng
Nigeria-based Diary of Hackers - is a Platform for Cybersecurity Enthusiasts to Learn, Network, and Have Fun. @DiaryOfHackers
The trick will be sticking to the 80/20 principle: identifying and prioritizing the activities and partnerships that will ultimately deliver the most impact. Let me know if you have any suggestions or ideas.