How Technology Is Helping African Youths Gain Skills For Employment

TECH DIGEST – Tessi Obasa is a young marine/offshore engineer in Nigeria who does video editing and special effects for fun. His first experience of online learning came in 2016 with a Udemy course on Android programming using Android studio. Since then, he’s taken several other courses to learn new skills.

It was immediately evident during our chat that he loved learning and picking up new skills.

He’s had his fair share of challenges in his learning journey, having to battle unreliable Internet connection, power challenges, and inadequate tools to practice with. Once, while taking a course on VFX special effects, the camera he needed for a project cost ₦800,000 ($4,000), which he couldn’t afford.

For context, Nigeria’s minimum wage at the time (2016) was ₦18,000 ($90). But he soldiered on, saying to himself, “My Tecno phone camera will have to suffice.”

Obasa’s story is not an isolated one, with youth across Africa unable to get the education they need in their country. They turn to edtech platforms to improve their chances of getting a job but are met with waves of problems.

It’s an open secret that Africa is facing an unemployment crisis. A large number of Africa’s youth have no jobs or are under-employed.

While the phrase “Africa rising” may have become hackneyed, one thing is not in doubt, Africa’s young population is growing. According to data from the UN World Population Prospects (PDF), of the 2.4 billion new people that would be added to the current population by 2050, over half (1.3 billion) will come from Africa.

According to analysts at the World Bank, this army of youths would join the working population and could potentially drive between 11% and 15% GDP growth on the continent. While these are optimistic outlooks, with a history of not taking advantage of opportunities, even the most optimistic person would have a hard time believing that this population growth is a good development.

Between 2000 and 2007, the working-age population in Africa grew at 2.6% annually, resulting in 96 million new members of the continent’s workforce. However, only 63 million jobs were created during that period — a shortfall of 33 million jobs.

According to data from the African Development Bank (AfDB) data, between 12 million and 15 million young people enter the job market annually.

By 2035, Africa’s working-age population is expected to grow by 450 million people.

However, a combination of a private sector incapable of absorbing them and the inability of governments to create suitable environments for them to thrive could mean that most of these youths could either be unemployed or underemployed.

Faced with the prospect of joblessness, young people are taking their destinies into their hands by gaining skills that would enable them to thrive in the workplace. For example, a report (PDF) by Google and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) shows that 31% of software developers in Africa were self-taught. This is a theme that plays out for most digital skills.

With no help forthcoming, African youths are taking their destinies into their hands. There are four major channels through which the skills gap in Africa is being closed:

Whether through private schools, public schools, or vocational and technical training schools, formal education remains the best bet for most African youths to gain skills.

However, even that comes with its challenges. One-third of youths between the ages of 12 and 14 are out of school, while almost 60% of youths between the ages of 15 and 17 are out of school.

Bringing gender into the equation paints a more depressing picture — 9 million girls between the ages of 6 and 11 will never go to school, setting them up for a lifetime of exclusion; those who might be able to afford an education face the challenge of access.

According to Quartz Africa, 10 of the most populous countries in Africa have 740 universities serving more than 600 million people. Compare that to Latin America, where 1,834 universities serve a population of 434 million people.

That means that without the ability to leave their countries for education, many African youths will not get a university education.

Edtech platforms have seen increased patronage as smartphone penetration has increased across Africa. The coronavirus pandemic further accelerated its adoption as educational institutions across the continent were shut down. However, there are still two major problems with using edtech platforms: affordability and accessibility.

According to Blessing Abeng, Director of Communications at Ingressive for Good, high data costs, unreliable Internet connection, inconsistent or non-existent power supply, and lack of tech tools for practice are some of the challenges African youths face in gaining tech skills.

This is a view shared by Obasa, who says, “Gadgets are expensive due to inflation. If you have the required gadgets, learning online will be much smoother and easier,” he says.

Godwin, another learner, adds, “I once had to take a course on edX but could not afford the certificate even though I finished the course.” A certificate on edX could range from $99 (₦40,687) to $149 (₦61,237).

The private sector is involved in providing African youths with skills, especially those required by the organisation. For example, with African tech talents being poached by companies from the West, some African startups are having to train talents in-house to have any chance of competing., a hospitality startup in Nigeria, runs the HNG Internship, a three-month programme that aims to make newbie programmers professionals capable of getting a job. Cowrywise also has a design fund aimed at helping more women get into design.

This channel has been heavily influenced by technology. With many youths unable to afford to pay for an education, self-learning is often the only route left. Through YouTube videos or edtech platforms that provide some of their content for free, many African youths have acquired the skills that have enabled them to get jobs.

If you’ve read up to this point, it is clear that the task of helping African youths gain the right skills is a huge one and cannot be achieved by any one person or group. Instead, it will require collaboration between all relevant stakeholders.