Although still in its infancy, Africa’s digital ecosystem has limitless potential to spur economic growth, advance social and gender equality, and provide opportunities for gainful engagement for millions of Africans.
When the African Union (AU) was formed 20 years ago, the continent had a five per cent internet penetration, compared to 40 per cent in Europe. By 2019, an average of 39.1 per cent of the continent’s population was online, with some countries, such as Kenya, having 89.8 per cent internet penetration.
With the astronomical growth of internet users over the last decade, increased smartphone accessibility, and digital services tailored to specific needs in different regions, Africa’s digital economy continues to expand rapidly.
Recognising the opportunity, the AU created a policy context to guide the continent’s digital transformation, which lays out a roadmap for leveraging Africa’s digital possibilities for economic revolution. The AU’s Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa aims to achieve significant prosperity and inclusivity for the continent by relying on several pillars, key among them being digital skills and human capacity.
Among other things, the Digital Strategy aims to provide a massive online e-skills development programme to 300 million Africans per year by 2025, as well as basic knowledge and skills in digital security and privacy. Africa is the world’s last and largest untapped market, a significant consumer of digital infrastructure and technologies, and home to a growing young population.
According to the World Economic Forum, 60 per cent of Africa’s population is under the age of 25, and by 2030, young Africans are expected to account for 42 per cent of the global youth population.
As a result, there is a clear need to increase skilling efforts in order to provide young Africans with the opportunity to contribute and thrive as the continent undergoes a digital transformation.
Digital skills are important for digital transformation because they enable individuals and businesses to effectively use digital technologies to drive business growth and improve operations. Digital technologies are becoming increasingly important in today’s world, and having the right digital skills can help individuals and businesses stay competitive and successful.
Undoubtedly, Africa’s youth must be at the centre of the conversation about digital skilling because they will be the future drivers of change and innovation on the continent.
Young people have a unique perspective and the ability to learn skills that will be useful in driving digital transformation. As a starting point, universities and institutions of higher learning provide fertile ground for sowing the seeds of change in skill acquisition and knowledge transfer.
Young people attend tertiary institutions to broaden their skillset in ways that are marketable.
Excitingly, the market for tech jobs in Africa is rapidly expanding as multinational corporations establish themselves on the continent and home-grown start-ups expand to meet critical market demands.
Regrettably, even though tech companies are always on the lookout for new talent, they are frequently unable to hire recent graduates because many students only have theoretical knowledge and very little practical experience.
As part of Microsoft, African Development Centre’s campus tours, we encourage students to take up tech-related professional courses alongside their degree schoolwork.
With such an approach, fresh graduates armed with appropriate tech-related professional certifications stand a higher chance of obtaining employment. For the same reason, universities are collaborating with technology industry organisations to redesign their curricula to better meet industry needs.
For example, Microsoft’s African Development Centre (ADC) is partnering with local universities (both public and private) to review their Computer Science programmes.
Students studying Computer Science will benefit from the new curriculum as they will have access to updated resources, courses, and assessments. Furthermore, an updated curriculum with industry input will help students gain hands-on tech skills that will be useful in their tech careers.
Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), is already benefitting from this initiative by the ADC.