We were invited to present a proposal for training and development to the E-commerce Forum Africa in Jozi and Cape Town. Both sessions were filled with incredibly engaged industry practitioners and there was considerable engagement, excitement and interest around our education offering.
E-commerce in South Africa faces many challenges. From the consumer perspective, these include reluctance to pay delivery costs, confusion around payment and the need for a credit card, security, and the ability to return items or get money refunded.
The reality from the e-commerce providers’ perspective is that many of their sites are inadequate in addressing these issues, but also add the burden of poor usability. Given that many major retailers haven’t yet gotten this right, there is little example for small business owners and entrepreneurs to follow.
And even in the cases where a good example exists, the barriers to entry from a skills perspective are huge. In an economy that, with few exceptions, follows the tech trends of developed countries and with consumers demonstrating readiness for e-commerce solutions, it is time that we changed that.
Education as a solution
We need to offer individuals skills development opportunities and provide the potential to gain employment, but we also have a responsibility to give small business owners the tools to take their offerings online, with a proper understanding of how to set up and run an online business. Ideally, we also need to make it easier for employers to find and retain good talent. We also, of course, have a transformation prerogative and we have an obligation to accelerate our progress.
So, what do we need?
First off, we need some scale. The challenges that we’re facing can’t be solved by producing an annual elite class of 10 or 15 e-commerce specialists. We need to create a sustainable mechanism for creating talent and feeding it into the sectors in the industry where it is needed, while at the same time ensuring that the talent we produce has the opportunity to keep learning while they accumulate industry experience.
Secondly, we need a range of entry points into skills development programmes. There is no point in flooding the market with junior e-commerce practitioners. Similarly, this does not account for existing skills and experience. So the learning opportunities that we create need to cater to multiple entry and exit points.
Thirdly, the same applies to the range of learning outcomes that we include: we need generalists, capable of starting a small online business. We need specialists, in everything from usability design to product distribution. This will enable us to feed the industry as a whole – the development agencies who are building and customising e-commerce platforms, the large retailers with multi-faceted teams and the small business owner who wants to scale his or her audience.
Our goal is always to remain relevant to our students – offering meaningful opportunities for employment and advancement – and to our industry – ensuring we are producing the graduates and skillsets that are most desperately needed. We look forward to the potential collaboration with the engaged team and partners at the E-commerce Forum Africa, and to pioneering a new kind of training initiative in South Africa.
Anna Malczyk is HOD of Instructional Design at Red & Yellow School. Lyndi Lawson-Smith is Campus Director of Red & Yellow Johannesburg
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