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Africa needs digital skills across the economy - not just the tech sector

A farm worker manually irrigates a salad field, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), In Thies, Senegal June 3, 2020. Picture taken June 3, 2020.

From agriculture to tourism, digital skills can help grow African businesses of all stripes Image: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Alejandro Caballero
Principal Education Specialist, IFC
Sajitha Bashir
Advisor, Office of the Global Director, Education, World Bank
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The Digital Transformation of Business

This article is part of: The Jobs Reset Summit
  • Demand for digital skills training in Africa will surge in the coming decade as jobs that before did not need digital skills will begin to do so.
  • Education providers need to align their offerings to accommodate this surge in demand.
  • Policy-makers and the private sector also need to work together to improve the necessary infrastructure.

The importance of Africa being digitally connected and skilled is obvious. Think of the farmer in Ethiopia checking crop prices on government websites, a factory worker in Kenya sharing photos via their smartphone to update management, or a small business in Rwanda switching to online banking. Without access to online information, e-commerce, and instantaneous communication via mobile technology, it is that much harder for workers, business owners and families to succeed and prosper.

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However, Africa faces a huge digital skills gap, which is diluting economic opportunities and development. Some 230 million jobs across the continent will require some level of digital skills by 2030, according to a study by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group and the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. That translates to a potential for 650 million training opportunities and an estimated $130 billion market. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing many businesses to go digital to survive, the need for these skills has only become more apparent in recent months.

To gain deeper insight into how to boost these skills while ensuring that the infrastructure exists for people to develop them, IFC and the World Bank (through the Digital Development Program Trust Fund) have done new research on the Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Rwanda markets. According to the preliminary findings, by 2030 some level of digital skills will be required for 50-55% of jobs in Kenya, 35-45% in Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Rwanda, and 20-25% in Mozambique.

Demand for digital skills far outstrips supply in Sub-Saharan Africa
Demand for digital skills far outstrips supply in Sub-Saharan Africa Image: IFC

Altogether, 57 million jobs will require digital skills by 2030 in these five countries. Only about two million of these jobs will be in the ICT and e-commerce sector, traditionally considered to be the main drivers of demand. This has major implications for the type of training that populations need and how it could be delivered. Much of the demand for digital skills will emanate from generic occupations that are not from narrowly defined ICT professions, as more enterprises adopt digital technologies in a broad range of sectors. About 70% of the demand will be for foundational digital skills and another 23% will be for non-ICT intermediate level digital skills.

Agribusiness managers, for instance, will need training in how to use financial software to track income and expenses. Office workers will need to know how to use innovative software programmes to make online presentations. Tourism operators will want to learn about digital marketing tools that can grow their business – for example, which social media platforms to use and how to build an attractive website. Agricultural and industrial companies will need to provide training in areas like robotics (both agriculture and industry) as well as programmers to develop social media sites.

The digital skills picture in Sub-Saharan Africa is mixed
The digital skills picture in Sub-Saharan Africa is mixed Image: World Bank

To respond to this growing demand, higher education institutions in the region need to revamp their ICT and engineering courses to respond to changing technologies. Rapid skilling programmes could be introduced to address spikes in demand for specific needs.

With 70% of its population having access to broadband internet, Kenya is ripe for digital skills training across all levels. Nigeria, Africa’s largest market with 200 million people, has great potential too but faces major infrastructural hurdles. For example, with only 35% of schools in Nigeria connected to a power supply (and that supply being erratic, to say the least), it will be vital to improve the power infrastructure to enable networks to operate uninterrupted and at optimal levels. In Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda, inadequate internet access is a problem; less than half their populations have access to broadband. In Mozambique, less than a quarter do. While expanding access is essential, it will not be enough. As other studies show, actual use of the internet is limited by high prices for data, lack of basic literacy, and limited availability of content in local languages. The overall quality of the education system, including basic and secondary education, affects the quality and level of digital skills.


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Although it is still early days, we are seeing some promising developments in digital skills training. The Kenya-based Moringa School for coding has trained 2,000 students from Ghana, Hong Kong, Kenya, Pakistan and Rwanda. Andela, which builds remote engineering teams to support global and local technology company needs, recruits top software engineers from across Africa and globally and uses its platform to train and match this expert talent to client needs.

The Anchorsoft Academy in Nigeria is training students in software development, testing and data science. Cote d’Ivoire’s UVCI is a virtual university offering IT training at various levels. Rwanda’s government established a national coding academy last year. Regionally active higher education platforms including AdvTech, Educor, Honoris and GetSmarter are expanding digital skills offerings.

Hundreds of millions of people in Africa will need training or retraining in digital skills. The ability to scale up sustainable business models will have a big impact on the continent’s growth. Whether it is the Ethiopian farmer, Kenyan factory worker, or Rwandan entrepreneur, mastery of digital skills will increasingly be a determinant of Africa’s success.

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May 21, 2024

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