Africa, Continent Revolutionising Skills Gap

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Ibrahim Youssry

At Microsoft, we believe that technology is a powerful force for good in a rapidly changing world. We have a responsibility to bring everyone into the digital economy, and this will only happen if the right skills are available to enable the digital future.

We are committed to helping every person and organisation in the Middle East and Africa prepare for the digital revolution. Microsoft is enabling a knowledge-based economy in the region by redefining education, empowering youth and closing the skills gap through a combination of partnerships, trainings, real-world experiences and online classrooms.

Jobs are changing, skills continue to evolve

Being home to one quarter of the world’s population (1.86 billion), the Middle East and Africa could supply the next generation of this workforce, but are we ready to fill these roles of the future?

There’s a skills gap crisis and rising unemployment in MEA. One third of the population are the youth, while 40 percent of employers cite the skills shortage as a major constraint to company growth. Just 38 percent of young professionals believe their education has prepared them for the workplace. Urgent efforts for closing the continent’s skills gap will be needed, and addressing these challenges at the very core level, is imperative.

Workplace of the future

It’s not enough to be thinking of ways to fill the current skills gap – we must also rethink how we skill for future jobs that don’t even exist today. Consider this: nearly 75 percent of students today will do jobs that do not currently exist. Skilling for future generations is about how we create professionals from all walks of life who will help deliver future innovations and drive business with Microsoft technology.

It starts with our youth

Efforts across MEA are focused on our youth population to ensure that technology can benefit all youth to become tomorrow’s leaders. Over the past three years, Microsoft has provided learning opportunities to 9.8 million African youth through strong partnerships and programmes. We work with non-profits, governments, educators and businesses to help organisations, school districts and educators in MEA build their capacity to offer computer science and digital skills training.

Since 2017, the Digital Skills programme has upskilled 4,8 million underserved youth in Africa, rendering half-a-million youth employable and supporting the direct employment of over 27,000 youth, providing 2,680 internship opportunities, while enabling over 1,500 aspiring entrepreneurs to establish their own businesses. In Nigeria, the Technology for Social Change and Development Initiative provides digital skills training to half a million youth through a ‘train the trainer’ programme reaching 5,000 trainers from 10 states across the country.

In partnership with the African Development Bank, the Coding for Employment programme will upskill 50 million youth across Africa and create 25 million jobs in agriculture, Information Communications and Technology (ICT), and other key industries across Africa, by 2025.

Conscious of the need to encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM, we have been collaborating with FAWE (Forum for African Women Educationalists) since 2016 to train young women, teachers and students across 10 countries to adopt and use STEM curricula, teaching and learning materials and classroom practises that are gender responsive. Through this collaboration, we have supported the training of 25,000 young women and 250 teachers on digital skills.

With support from Microsoft, the Zariah Elizabeth Foundation has provided 50,000 young women with digital skills training through a ‘train the trainer’ programme in UNESCO community centres, with 2,000 teachers and trainers receiving training and support to effectively teach digital skills.

Education is key

Regardless of the delivery method, technology can never replace good teachers in the classroom. We know that as we bring technology into the classroom, we need to be careful that we use it to complement, rather than replace, traditional teaching practices.

We focus on empowering educators to digitally transform classrooms and reimagine learning to build the skills necessary for the future workforce in Africa. Over 150,000 teachers and 5 million students in the last three years are already benefitting from these efforts to provide access to technology, content and training.

The National Digital Literacy Programme with the Government of Kenya targets learners in all public primary schools and is aimed at integrating the use of digital technologies in learning. Over one million units have been deployed. We have also trained 12,000 teachers across Kenya under the Microsoft Certified Educator program.

Young professionals need more skills

Often unemployment arises due to a skills gap between first-time jobseekers and employers. It’s essential to upskill youth with the right combination of technical and soft skills to immediately make a difference in the workplace. We do this through various initiatives and programmes, such as Student2Business, an opportunity for youth to acquire experience at a leading technology company. The Microsoft Career Pathways programme offers various Microsoft learning resources, from formal technology certification exams to free online courses and detailed learning paths that help youth gain in-demand skills.

Microsoft 4Afrika’s goal is to develop world-class skills, focusing on university graduates to address the workplace skills mismatch. Programmes such as Interns 4Afrika, a six-month internship programme for graduates, the Skills Labs and MySkills4Afrika all leverage the Microsoft partner network to build digital talent pipelines that support both youth employment and the digital transformation of our partners.

Tech intensity needs skills intensity

To stay relevant, companies need to aggressively and relentlessly pursue digital innovation across everything they do. But to apply tech intensity, businesses need skills integrity. Customers look to us to help skill them, and this is where ongoing education of employees, managers and C-suite executives is vital.

The current workforce needs nimble and continued learning opportunities that match or beat the pace of change driven by new technologies. Microsoft Skilling helps our customers ensure that their teams have the technical skills required to make the most of the technologies they are investing in. The initiative leverages a range of free and paid learning materials, such as Microsoft Learn, Microsoft Training days, hackathons and online learning courses to create comprehensive learning plans.

Learning for life

Advancements in technology like cloud computing and artificial intelligence are transforming economies and reshaping workplaces at an unprecedented rate. And while AI has the potential to create high-value jobs in fast-growing industries, automation is drastically impacting existing jobs. By 2030 in the Middle East alone, 45 percent of existing work could potentially be automated.

The Microsoft Cloud Society offers training and certification opportunities to people of any age working in the technology sector to help them be cloud-ready and advance their careers. Members can choose from a variety of free online learning courses and virtual workshops to train on Microsoft technologies at their own page, in their own time, to boost their career prospects. In the Middle East and Africa alone, the Cloud Society currently has over 201,000 users, with over 1 million enrolments completed.

The Microsoft AI Business School, launched in 2019, helps business executives drive AI transformation in their company, but also redefine their role as leaders.

Microsoft works closely with non-profits and local governments in the Middle East and Africa to address the underlying challenges that prevent entire populations from having access to economic opportunities. As one company, we can make a difference, but as thousand of people and thousands of organisations working together towards a common goal, we can drive a much greater impact.

Youssry is Regional General Manager, Middle East & Africa Multi-Country Region at Microsoft