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

  • 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.

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.

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