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Their Toolbox Runneth Over: Training Key To Bridging Africa's Skills Gap

Njideka Harry Youth For Technology Foundation
May 14, 2016

Sustainable economic growth in Africa will only be achieved by providing workforces around the continent with the skills they need to compete in the modern world. Preparing people for work in the continent's rapidly expanding information and communication technology sector requires using digital education platforms like MOOCs, data transportability tools and wireless telecommunications.​


The success of the African continent in the 21st century—her wealth and welfare—will depend on the ideas and skills of her people. To compete confidently in an age when knowledge is capital and the marketplace is global, quality education must be at the forefront.

In PricewaterhouseCoopers’s 18th Annual Global CEO Survey, 90 percent of chief executive officers in Africa expressed concern about being able to find employees with skills they need. That's 10 percent more than those who expressed such concerns one year earlier. At the same time, young people who would likely be interested in employment opportunities with these providers do not know what jobs exist, how to apply for them or what skills they require.

While this disconnect exists across sectors in Africa, it is especially relevant in industries like information technology, health care and advanced manufacturing. Offering young people targeted skills development in these areas potentially provides employment opportunities to millions. The majority of CEOs believe that investments in digital technologies have created value for their businesses, and around 80 percent say that mobile technologies and data analytics are key strands of their strategies.

Companies are searching far and wide to find the skills they need. Many CEOs use multiple channels to find talent, including online platforms and social networks, and businesses are actively searching for talent across different locales, industries and demographic segments. Tapping into the labor pool in emerging markets is particularly important because, by 2020, more than half of graduates aged 24 to 35 will likely be found there.

Education key to matching skills to demand

There's a major problem, though. A recent World Economic Forum report claims that, in as few as six years, 95 million people will be equipped with the wrong skills for the available jobs.

Over the years, Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) has ensured that the people we train secure durable employment and launch successful businesses. We’ve done this by drawing on two of our core capabilities: training talent and fostering partnerships. We know that equipping people with in-demand skills opens up a world of well-paid jobs and increases economic prosperity among the middle class, which results in GDP growth.

But there is more work still to do. Africa is experiencing a greater ICT skills shortfall than the rest of the world. Bridging Africa's information and communication technology (ICT) skills gap is is about tapping into human potential and providing people with roles to play in economies that are becoming more services- and knowledge-based.

Digital gives an opportunity to rethink everything, including how our youth are being educated. Blending the best of massive open online courses (MOOC’s) with real-life interactive opportunities that build soft skills like teamwork, critical thinking and agility should be explored further.

Notwithstanding, we can’t ignore the infrastructural issues. Only 20 percent of Africa is online and only 40 percent of the population has constant power. We have figured out one way around this problem. Youth enrolled in YTF Academy benefit from data transportability as YTF’s curriculum, much of which incorporates MOOCs, is saved on USB drives for situations when students don’t have internet access.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa and its third largest economy, is also home to a huge youth population—42 percent of its people are under 15. These figures suggest the magnitude of investment needed in high-quality education. They also suggest the importance of enabling the country to become an economic powerhouse for the rest of the continent. In some cases it's simply a scaling problem: At the tertiary level, of the more than 1 million applications received each year, Nigerian universities have the capacity to admit only 20 percent.

The rate of cell phone ownership in Nigeria is the same as that in the United States, and the country has nearly 100 percent wireless coverage. With numbers like that, all residents can participate in global economies. The way to reach the disconnected is through mobile devices, and to achieve this, technology becomes critical.

According to the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training, up to 95 percent of jobs will require ICT skills by 2020. More than ever, the labor market now demands workers who have technical attributes, knowledge and the ability to adapt to a fast-changing world where workforces compete internationally.

Six hundred million jobs

That is what will be needed over the next 15 years just to maintain current employment rates. Digital literacy is necessary to build a knowledge economy. Training in basic computer skills enables students to find and understand information communicated through technology. It also empowers individuals to solve problems in a scalable way.

The key problem facing the Nigerian labor market and others around this vast continent is not lack of labor but lack of highly skilled labor. This is explained by the fact that large-scale unemployment exists side by side with labor shortages in some specialized skill areas. The deteriorating quality of the workforce has been shown in the falling standard of education, especially at the university level.

No one organization can adequately address the issues of employment and entrepreneurship. It takes collaborators working across an ecosystem of public, private and civil-society partners. Together, we can create meaningful work, lasting change and sustainable economic growth.


(Top image: Courtesy of the Youth for Technology Foundation)

NHarryNjideka Harry is President & CEO of the Youth for Technology Foundation.

All views expressed are those of the author.