It is no news that the world of work as we know it is changing… and fast. With more than 60% of the African population under the age of 25, the continent has a fertile ground of youth who will at one point or the other engage in economic activities. Unfortunately, a significant skills gap and high unemployment rates still persist in the region, and with the Future of Work (FoW) leaning heavily towards digitization, the need for programs to equip the youth with digital skills is a no-brainer and an important investment.
On the bright side, Africa is steadily adjusting to the demand for skills driven by technological advancements. As seen in the chart below, skills such as digital literacy, web development and social media management have witnessed an increase in the past few years as more businesses rely on technology.
While each skill set may differ in terms of complexity and the learning curve involved, there is a seeming consensus on how they are grouped. They are usually categorised into basic, intermediate and advanced skills as depicted below:
Preparing African youth for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (a now ubiquitous buzzword) is no longer a nice-to-have but an important investment any government should already have the right policies and enabling infrastructures in place for. There are promising developments in digital skills training, thanks to programs targeted at reducing the skills shortage and providing youth with job-relevant digital skills such as computer programming, digital marketing, and software development. Essentially, these programs have been a gateway for young people to not only become employable but also to gain direct access to decent job opportunities that may otherwise have been unavailable to them.
While a good number of digital skills training programs have been emerging across Africa, let’s explore the notable programs that have been put in place to help ensure the future African workforce is fluent in digital skills.
This is a digital training initiative by Google in conjunction with various training partners including Haptics Academy, Sanstonz and Songhai labs, which offers both online and face-to-face free training for young Africans. The program is part of Google’s commitment to provide 10 million people in Africa with digital skills training for the jobs of the future over the next five years. The program mainly covers online marketing and machine learning skills.
In a bid to tackle the youth unemployment challenge in Africa, the Mastercard Foundation created a ten-year strategy to enable 30 million youth in Africa gain dignified employment. The strategy is implemented through training initiatives, scholarships as well as partnerships with governments and private sector organizations. As part of the Young Africa Works strategy, the Foundation set up the Mastercard Foundation’s African Centre for Innovative Teaching and Learning in ICT, based in Kigali Rwanda. The centre is aimed at using technology to improve the quality of teaching and learning in secondary education. By engaging with EdTech entrepreneurs and governments, the centre will be developed in focus countries across the continent to use EdTech solutions to solve challenges in secondary education.
In Nigeria, the Mastercard Foundation partnered with the Enterprise Development Centre (EDC) to implement the Transforming Nigerian Youths Program to teach over 40,000 nigerian youth how to grow and scale their businesses via the EDC’s online learning platform. In Ghana, the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works strategy is implemented in partnership with the National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI) through a skills program to equip Ghanaian youth with entrepreneurial skills.
As part of the African Development Bank’s agenda to create 25 million jobs by 2025 and equip 50 million African youth with competitive skills, the bank in partnership with Microsoft launched a digital training platform in 2019 to train African youth. Courses such as web development, design, data science and digital marketing are taught on the platform. Most importantly, the bank looks to ensure these courses are constantly adapted to respond to market demand.
In partnership with the Nigerian government and Microsoft, the AfDB launched the Digital Nigeria e-learning platform in 2020 as a key component of the Digital Nigeria program to provide digital skills training for the country’s youth. The platform is accessible via a website and a mobile application, and offers courses on data science, basic coding, web development, as well as soft skills such as problem-solving and creative thinking. In combination with the AfDB’s Coding for Employment Program, the Digital Nigeria program is aimed to help create 9 million jobs in Africa’s digital economy by 2030.
This initiative was first launched in 2012 and has since been a recurring program in various African countries including Nigeria, Ethiopia, Algeria and South Africa. Applications are taken from young African citizens in their respective countries. The program is a three-month training program that equips university graduates with digital skills as well as soft skills. Successful graduates of the program become certified SAP consultants and are guaranteed temporary job placement in roles where their skills can be impactful.
The eSkills4Girls program is an initiative introduced by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development to promote digital skills for girls and women. Due to inequalities in income, education and employment, access to the digital world is disproportionate for women. While the eSkills4Girls program is global, great focus has been placed on African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Lesotho, Tanzania, and South Africa. The program has engaged in partnerships to promote digital skills in Africa, providing funding to various digital training initiatives for women across the continent. Some of these initiatives are:
The program teaches digital and analytical skills to female entrepreneurs between the ages of 18-35 and provides them with mentors who help them break into the tech sector.
This program was launched to provide secondary school girls with knowledge about digital technologies and their uses. However, the program is also targeted at teachers and secondary school girls who have dropped out of school.
The project supports teachers in setting up girl coding clubs in schools and is developing a database to network women from different industries including film, fashion, agriculture and technology.
This is a corporate-supported digital skills training program rolled out in various forms including internships with tech startups, apprenticeships and app development workshops. The program provides online academies, virtual and in-person trainings as well as real-world learning opportunities. Microsoft 4Afrika is available across the continent and possesses on-the-ground presence in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Mauritius, Malawi and Ethiopia.
Established by the Rwandan Government, the academy was launched in 2019 and teaches software development, embedded systems programming and cyber security to Rwandan citizens.
Based in Kenya, Moringa school for coding is one of the leading digital learning programs in the country. The school provides tech-based learning in data science and software development. So far, the platform has trained 2,000 students from Ghana, Kenya, and Rwanda, as well as Hong Kong and Pakistan.
Are these programs sufficient to address the FoW skills needs?
Our take on this is that whilst many of the top interventions are focused on tech skills such as coding and software development tailored for the tech sector, little attention is paid to digital skills for other sectors of the economy such as agriculture, tourism, health or finance. It is important to note that the FoW job market will increasingly require digital skills, hence, other sectors driving demand for these skills should not be ignored.
Recent research carried out by the IFC and World Bank on five African markets provided insights into the main drivers of demand for digital skills. For these five countries alone (Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Mozambique, Rwanda and Kenya), 57 million jobs will require digital skills by 2030. However, only about 2 million of these jobs will be found in the ICT and e-commerce sectors. These sectors are the most common focus areas of digital skills training, yet, the majority of the demand for digital skills has been projected to be from occupations that are not from narrowly defined tech professions, as more businesses and professions adopt digital technologies across Africa.
Hence, the continent could do with more digital training initiatives focused on the application of digital skills to other sectors besides tech. For instance, agribusiness owners and farmers could use digital skills training in areas such as drone management to monitor crop health via aerial imaging technology, irrigation applications and soil testing technology. These are becoming increasingly useful with the advancement of a new era of agriculture known as Agritech (the use of technology in agriculture to improve efficiency and profitability). Similarly, training in financial software skills tailored for corporate professionals and entrepreneurs, or medical-related digital skills for health professionals, could go a long way in improving the penetration of digital skills across different sectors of the economy.
Overall, Africa is witnessing impactful interventions to gradually close the digital skills gap facing the continent. To further drive digital transformation and respond to the growing demand for digital skills, governments must begin to embed structures that promote digitization and in years to come, the benefits will be evident across various sectors.
Jointly written with Kenstonia Edende