Without a doubt, young people in Africa are riding the information and communication technology (ICT) crest, chalking up notable successes at home and abroad.
In November, for instance, ICT students from Africa emerged among the best performers during the Huawei ICT Competition Global finals, highlighting the potential that is latent in the continent and the fact that young people in Africa are keen to drive the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
From Nigeria to South Africa, university students have demonstrated their ICT credentials, coming up with innovations that signal the important role that higher education institutions have been playing in driving the use of technology to solve local problems. The work done by these institutions also showcases the huge potential to create jobs that ICT offers.
Despite these successes, there are still challenges that the continent ought to address if it is to better reap the benefits of technology. The first and most glaring is the low internet penetration that is still prevalent in many countries across Africa
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Sadly, the continent still lags behind the global average in terms of quality, accessibility and affordability of ICT infrastructure and services.
For instance, by last year, internet penetration in Africa stood at 39.6 per cent compared to a global average of 62.7 per cent. Although there are countries like Kenya that are trending above the global average (at 89.9 per cent penetration), these are outliers compared to others like Burundi where internet penetration stands at a paltry 5.3 per cent of the population.
Generally, therefore, Africa needs to do more to get its population connected. This is critical for the creation of more economic opportunities, especially for young people and rural communities.
Besides ease of access, private sector players in the ICT sector should be challenged to ramp up mobile broadband download speeds to increase the ease of using internet services for both individuals and businesses. As it is, average speed in Africa stands at 2.7 megabits per second, which is roughly half as fast as the global average.
Getting young people connected is one of the sure ways of driving job creation, thus reducing inequalities in opportunities that historically perpetuate income disparities.
One of the challenges that African countries are still grappling with is the mismatch between training and the job market needs. Although many young people have access to training opportunities at post-secondary education level, the skills they learn do not adequately prepare them for the world of work, hence the need for industry players to be willing to take on such youth and empower them through on-the-job knowledge and skills transfer.
Again, this calls for government incentives to motivate private companies to invest in training partnerships with vocational training institutions.
Increasingly, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things and Big Data are rapidly changing the way we work, learn and live. These technologies are themselves evolving every day, hence the need for companies already using them to embrace young people with high potential and walk the transformational journey with them through training or sharing knowledge with fellow workers.
This way, the youth will acquire the skills they most need to be productive employees. They will not only be relevant to the labour market but will also have the incomes that propel them to a higher quality of life. In the long run, private sector firms will also benefit from the retention of such talent.
In turn, the increase of well-paid jobs can attract more Kenyan talents into the ICT sector, thus making a virtuous circle. And that is where governments come in to create the policy framework that would make such synergy possible and beneficial for all.
A good example is the long-term partnership between ICT Authority and Huawei in providing ICT skills as well as infrastructure and IT services to nourish local capacity in Kenya.
Our world today is increasingly waking up to the reality that the days of blanket training, especially in the area of technology, are rapidly fading, hence the need for innovation even in the design of training modules.
With the right synergies, a vibrant workforce and the right digital infrastructure, there is nothing to stop Africa from giving its young people the tools they need to play a more meaningful role in the global ICT value chain.
The writer is a Partner and Head of Content at House of Romford. [email protected]