Help Wanted: 1000s Of Unfilled Software Jobs On A Continent Plagued By Unemployment

By Tom Jackson AFKI Original Published: January 26, 2017, 10:02 am
unfilled software jobs in AfricaCode Camp at Jjiguene Tech Hub, Senegal. Photo: Jjiguene Tech Hub/ladycollective.com

There are tens of thousands of unfilled software jobs in Africa, a continent plagued by mass unemployment, especially among its digitally savvy youth.

Digital skills training is vital to Africa’s future, says the co-founder of CodeX, one of many companies across the continent trying to address the shortfall.

Africa is outsourcing great tech jobs to skilled workers on other continents. Many of the continent’s challenges can be solved with tech solutions, but ultimately they must be solved by the people who understand the problems intimately — Africans themselves.

Africa is undergoing a technological revolution, with major advancements in the tech space transforming labor markets.

Yet, worryingly, there is a shortage of skills in the STEM spaces — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — that means many Africans will remain locked out of this growth, with newly created jobs going by default to better-trained individuals from overseas.

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs study says over 5 million jobs will be lost in 15 developed and emerging economies, including South Africa, and adds that these patterns may be even more aggravated in other African economies.

Skill demands from employers are changing rapidly, and education needs to be aligned with these demands if qualified Africans are to fill these new roles.

This is a process that is happening slowly. Less than 10 percent of Africans get any education after high school, and only a tiny fraction of those who do study in STEM fields. Rural populations are still locked out of tertiary education, and women are still excluded in the tech space.

The whole of Africa is lagging in this regard. Mauritius ranks highest in Africa — in 55th position — for preparedness to use ICT to boost competitiveness and well-being, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Information Technology Report. The continent has a way to go.

“There are tens of thousands of unfilled software jobs, on a continent plagued by mass unemployment, especially of the digitally savvy youth. Digital skills training is absolutely vital to Africa’s future,” says Elizabeth Gould, co-founder and director of South African company codeX.

CodeX is just one of a number of companies across the continent trying to address this issue, offering young Africans access to digital training. Other companies include Kenya’s Moringa School and the pan-African Andela, which has made such an impact it has raised US$24 million in funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

The impact of such companies has the potential to be huge, perhaps explaining why the likes of Andela have been so successful at fundraising.

“The continent is outsourcing great jobs to other continents, en masse. Young people are deprived of promising careers because there aren’t enough training opportunities. If it doesn’t change, Africa will once again face not being able to fully participate in the global economy,” Gould says.

“High rates of unemployment and lack of hope for the future will generate political and social turmoil. In addition, many of Africa’s challenges in health, education, energy, and finance can be solved with tech solutions, but they must ultimately be built by the people who understand the problems intimately – Africans themselves. Without local tech skills, this cannot happen.”

Aside from codeX, Moringa School and Andela, there are other grassroots initiatives to tackle the problem. Akirachix in Kenya and Jjiguene Tech in Senegal focus specifically on recruiting African women to tech fields. The Schlumberger Foundation runs an amazing program called Faculty for the Future that supports African women in STEM fields.

Large corporates are getting involved as well. Microsoft has launched some training initiatives, while Facebook boss Zuckerberg has backed Andela. Google last year launched its Digify program, which is looking to train 1 million Africans in digital skills. This goes for larger African firms as well, such as South Africa’s Dimension Data, which has launched a tech program in schools.

Gould says these firms are getting involved because they suffer as much as anyone when it comes to the digital skills gap.

“Large corporates generally get involved because they too face dire talent shortages, and I hope we see more money spent on digital skills development both for their own recruiting purposes and to help upskill Africans across the continent,” Gould says.

In some countries, governments and public institutions are partnering with corporates in order to drive skills development. In Kenya, for example, University of Nairobi has partnered Huawei to launch the Huawei Authorised Network Academy (HAINA) IT laboratory.

The Kenyan government, meanwhile, launched the Presidential Digital Talent Programme (PDTP) in 2014, and recently processed the first 100 graduates from the ICT skills programme. The initiative is run by the country’s ICT Authority in partnership with the private sector, with most graduates taking up positions within government or in the wider ICT sector.

Gould says such initiatives are generally unusual across Africa, where for the most part governments have been unable to keep up with the pace of change of tech skills.

“The best government programs empower initiatives like mLab in South Africa to stay close to the industry and partner with the most current training programs,” she says.

“I believe Kenya, Rwanda, and Nigeria are also taking tech increasingly seriously as a driver of economic growth, and hope that they support more programs like codeX which keep up with the rapidly developing software industry.”

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