With the number of small, medium, and micro-enterprises (SMMEs) in South Africa increasing by almost 6% year on year, and with transformative technologies like AI gaining momentum in and for businesses, Microsoft South Africa has embarked on an AI-driven technology skills training programme for 2 000 local SMMEs.

The first training sessions were delivered in Durban, and leveraged the low-code capabilities of Microsoft Power Platform to help SMMEs build solutions and applications that are fuelled by data and AI.

“Through this initiative, we want to help equip SMMEs with the skills and understanding they need to develop and provide AI-driven solutions that empower government to not only modernise processes but also improve decision-making and unlock efficiencies and cost savings,” says Lerato Mathabatha, public sector director at Microsoft South Africa.

According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s Economic Development in Africa Report 2023, it is essential to integrate digital solutions for enhanced supply chain visibility and efficiency. However, many African SMMEs, due to limited digital technology usage and challenges like skills and funding gaps, are yet to become an active part of the global supply chain network.

“Making AI technologies and skills accessible to SMMEs is an important step forward if we want to drive a more digitally inclusive, and active business landscape in South Africa,” says Mathabatha.

The Microsoft Work Trend Index, a survey across 31 countries in which Microsoft analysed trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals along with labour trends from the LinkedIn Economic Graph, has found that while 49% of individuals fear AI replacing their jobs, a significant 70% would delegate work to AI to lessen their workloads.

This highlights the potential of AI not just as a technological tool but as an enabler of business efficiency and innovation. The research also showed that 82% of leaders believe their employees will need new skills to be prepared for the growth of AI.

Through this AI-focused training, Microsoft South Africa aims to equip SMMEs for an AI-powered future, setting them on a trajectory of sustainable growth. As businesses in South Africa and beyond evolve with AI, Microsoft’s initiatives pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future, positioning Africa’s SMMEs at the forefront of global digital transformation.

“Of course, we also recognise that training is not a once-off activity,” says Mathabatha. “Post this training at GovTech, we will continue to provide SMMEs with access to resources through the Founders Hub. These platforms will ensure that the businesses have the necessary support to implement, adapt, and grow using the newly acquired AI skills.”