Building digital skills in Eastern Africa

26 June 2018
ITC News

The challenge

Think of trade-led development and the first image that comes to mind may be some sort of manufacturing facility employing large numbers of former farmworkers. The fact is, however, that value addition in agriculture and services also offers considerable potential for developing countries in Africa and elsewhere to drive growth and job creation. Making the most of this potential is critical, especially for the large and fast-growing youth demographic, in light of signs that increasing automation means manufacturing industry will employ fewer workers than it used to.

Technological advances have rendered tradable a wide range of higher-value services that previously could only be provided locally, from accounting to software programming.

Tapping into international markets for such services is not straightforward for developing countries. One key constraint is skills: educated, experienced personnel are essential for services companies. Such skills are also important for business competitiveness in other sectors, as services are an increasingly important factor in the production of physical merchandise.

In Kenya’s information technology (IT) sector, the skills gap is exacerbated by a gender gap: fewer than one in five workers in the industry are female.

The response

ITC, as part of its Supporting Indian Trade and Investment for Africa (SITA) project, has been working with partners in Kenya and India to equip young people from across East Africa with the skills and experience they need to thrive in the region’s fast-growing digital economy. The objective is to leverage the expertise of India’s thriving tech sector to catalyse employment and entrepreneurship in the East African countries.

The training and job placement pilot programmes operate on two separate tracks. One, dubbed #SheGoesDigital, provides Kenyan women from financially disadvantaged backgrounds with a 40-day training programme in social media and digital marketing, followed by internships with companies seeking such skills. The programme was implemented by Kuza Biashara, a Nairobi-based social enterprise, and Iridium Interactive, an Indian software and education company.

The second track, the Indo-Africa Internship Programme, identifies promising East African information technology graduates through a competitive selection process that prioritizes young women and places them with Indian companies for three- to six-month internships. The goal is for young IT professionals to take their skills and experience back to East Africa to contribute to the growth of vibrant tech sectors in the region.

ITC started the programmes after a survey of 185 Kenyan companies revealed that over half of the respondent companies were struggling to find appropriately skilled workers.

In addition to software programming, data analytics and cloud computing skills, companies across all sectors reported a pressing shortfall in social media and digital marketing expertise.

The results

The two initiatives demonstrated that by working closely with prospective employers, skills-building initiatives can equip young people with marketable skills and lead to new job opportunities while helping companies fill gaps.

After a rigorous selection process that chose them from among 370 applicants, close to 50 young Kenyan women have graduated from #SheGoesDigital’s 45-day training programme in social and digital marketing. Of those, 32 were placed in three-month paid internships with 27 companies ranging from security to human resources and steel manufacturing, where they supported their employers’ implementation of social media and digital marketing strategies. Others opted to start their own businesses. As of late 2017, 55% of the programme’s graduates had confirmed full-time employment, a figure that is expected to rise. Employers report satisfaction with the interns, and have expressed interest in hiring future graduates.

‘I have always wanted to own a start-up company in the software engineering field, and this internship will help me take the initial step.’ Doreen Aradi, information technology graduate, Kenya

Meanwhile, the Indo-Africa Internship Programme has placed 11 East African students – seven of them women – with Indian companies.

‘My internship experience has been nothing but top notch,’ said Doreen Aradi, a Kenyan graduate who interned at India’s largest telecom company. ‘Working with the software engineering team has helped me gain hands-on experience on different programming languages which has helped me sharpen my programming skills. I have always wanted to own a start-up company in the software engineering field and this internship will help me take the initial step.’

After a four-month internship working on digital supply chain development, an Indian company offered Cedrick Manirafasha, a Rwandan national, a full-time position.
‘This internship had a very big impact on me and it has changed my perspective on how things are done,’ he said. ‘I am very confident that I can manage any project anywhere now.’

The future

Following the successful implementation of the pilot programmes, ITC is now developing a proposal for a regional programme, in partnership with businesses, to build digital skills for women and young people.