How digital technology can be used as a tool for youth empowerment

With the advent of digital technology the disparity between the different age groups as well as the youth unemployment gap is being alleviated slowly. [iStockphoto]

Barrack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, once said, "The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create." The statement rings true for a youthful population seeking to make meaningful strides in various industries. The pains of unemployment, however, tend to set limitations on the progress that could be made by these smart and innovative young talents.

The unemployment plague is one that not only affects the youth's financial standing but their self-esteem as well. The inability to pay for student loans, and provide for oneself or one family - all the while watching their peers advance in an unfair job environment - can indeed be disheartening. An environment where experience is a key consideration for a well-paying job.

A recently published UNICEF report established that three out of four youths lack the necessary skills for employment. This demonstrates that one of the major causes of unemployment in youth is a lack of essential skills. Equipping oneself with these skills is, therefore, vital.

In Kenya, 47.6 million Kenyans are under the age of 35 according to the 2019 Population Census results, with an unemployment rate of 6.6 per cent in the first quarter of 2021. Equipping youth with marketable skills remains a top priority; job opportunities for such a large number would therefore not only be important to individuals but to the economy as well.

However, with the advent of digital technology the disparity between the different age groups as well as the youth unemployment gap is being alleviated slowly, but surely. Its extensive significance cannot be denied.

A notable example is when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Both educational institutions and work setups turned to digital technology to ensure seamless continuity of operations. The ability to work and study remotely, conduct meetings and stay abreast of all job-related matters proved the critical role digital technology plays in the current society.

Various African countries continue to embrace digital technology and the significance it promises. A five-country study conducted jointly by International Finance Corporation (IFC) and World Bank shows that by 2030, 57 million jobs in Cote d'Ivoire, Mozambique, Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria will require digital skills. In Kenya alone, this accounts for 50-55 per cent of all jobs.

Stakeholders should take part in youth programmes and activities to encourage and empower the youth. In a bid to support the youth realize their economic aspirations, the Kenyan government has organized training of 20 million Kenyans on digital skills through the ICT ministry.

As part of the 2022-2032 digital master plan that was launched in April 2022 by the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs Cabinet Secretary (CS) Joe Mucheru, the project is set to cover digital services and data management, digital skills and digital innovation, enterprise and digital business, and digital infrastructure development. During the launch of a digital skills training program in June 2022 the Cabinet secretary mentioned that more than 15,000 civil servants had already been trained in ICT.

Mabati Rolling Mills in partnership with the State Department of Youth Affairs under the Ministry of ICT, Innovation, and Youth Affairs, launched the Chandaria Youth Empowerment Program (CYEP). The CYEP comprises training and mentorship opportunities for start-ups. The program seeks to collaborate with other like-minded stakeholders in offering virtual learning. Through this virtual learning, the program seeks to impact more youth across the country; since its inception in 2018, the program has successfully trained 1,400 youth in four counties.

By acquiring practical skills necessary for the job market and an in-demand skillset, the youth will become valuable assets. Furthermore, with the shift in job recruitment processes switching from analogue to digital, applicants are expected to have the know-how of necessary and advanced digital skills in the labour market. The ability to retrieve data from the internet, handle digital systems and communicate with clients and colleagues digitally sets apart young job seekers.

Digital technology has also broken a geographical barrier that would see the youth limited to job opportunities in their region or country. Now the youth can find a full-time online opportunity with an employer on the other end of the world. International job forums have made sure of this.

Careers such as social media managers have risen due to new technological introductions. The notion that digital skills are only limited to the tech industry is no longer viable. The handprint of technology is clear in most sectors such as healthcare, finance, and transportation.

Being proactive is a necessary skill for any successful business career. The youth need to actively work on their skills post-school to become more marketable in this digital age job market. Additionally, refining one's skills shouldn't stop at employment. The continuous improvement of digital skills makes individuals suitable for higher positions either internally or externally. Opportunities for the youth are available despite the fact they are unconventional, of importance is knowing how to leverage them.

Written by Julius Ochieng, Human Resource Manager, Building Solutions and Steel, Mabati Rolling Mills.

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