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STEM Education: a non-negotiable for a secure tomorrow

By Dr Molefi Motuku, CEO of Mintek

As we conclude the commemoration of Youth Month, it is crucial to reflect on the fact that South Africa finds itself at a critical crossroads, where we must carefully consider the path we are paving for our youth and the future of the country they stand to inherit. With over 10 million young people aged 15-24 years, and only 2.5 million of them in the labour force, the alarmingly high levels of youth unemployment highlight the shortcomings in our current approach to preparing them for the changing needs of the industry. It is important that we swiftly change course to address the challenges that have left many of our youth without employment opportunities.

As key role players, including industry, academia, and basic education and parents, we need to examine whether we are effectively directing, preparing, and developing young people in alignment with industry needs, not just for today but for the next 10-15 years. We must question whether the subjects, courses, and degrees we are teaching today will retain their value 20 years from now.

At Mintek, we deeply understand the critical role that Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) professionals play in driving innovation and advancing our industry and economy. By actively supporting and nurturing young talent in this sector, we aim to contribute to the growth and prosperity of both individuals and the society as a whole. It is our duty to cultivate a passion for SET disciplines and where we can, facilitate the transition from academia to industry for young professionals. This commitment is reflected in our deliberate efforts to build a strong workforce within our organisation, with strong focus on youth. Over 46% of our SET staff members are young professionals under the age of 35, and women account for over half of this diverse pool of talent. 30% of these young people hold PhDs, and again half of those with PhDs are women.

Investing in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education is non-negotiable for our country. It is crucial to anticipate the skills that will be in demand in the future. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, and renewable energy require specialised expertise. STEM education is the key to cultivating critical thinking, problem-solving, and adaptability—the skills necessary in our rapidly evolving world. We must ensure that our curriculum remains agile enough to meet the changing needs of the world. By prioritising STEM education and providing ample opportunities for practical application and industry exposure, we can drive innovation and pave the way for future advancements in the industry

Additionally, fostering partnerships between educational institutions and industry players is crucial. Engaging with the private sector allows us to bridge the gap between academia and real-world challenges. Industry-driven internships, apprenticeships, and mentorship programmes provide students with valuable hands-on experience and insights into the industry's needs.

Investing in the right skills today will enable us to effectively tackle future challenges. It will empower our youth to lead the charge in driving innovation, increasing productivity, and shaping the future of the minerals industry. South Africa holds immense potential, and by harnessing the enthusiasm, expertise, and fresh perspectives of our young professionals, we can position ourselves as a global leader in mineral technology research. The responsibility lies with all stakeholders—government, educational institutions, industry, and individuals—to collaborate and invest in the skill development of our youth. Only by doing so can we create a sustainable future where South Africa thrives as a knowledge-based economy, producing.