Africa’s digital talent – Google joins the party

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Google last week announced plans to train one million Africans in digital skills within the next year, introducing young people to the possibility of a digital career, and supporting those already working in the digital space.

To achieve the goal, Google has partnered Livity Africa to run two training programmes.  The first, ‘Digify Bytes,’ aims to give digital skills to young people looking to develop a digital career; while the other programme,  ‘Digify Pro’, is a three-month immersion programme for digital specialists.

“The internet is at the heart of economic growth and the Digital Skills Programme is aimed at helping more Africans play a part in the digital economy. Everyone can succeed online, start a new business, grow their existing one, or share their passion,” said Luke McKend, Google’s country director for South Africa.

The programmes have already launched in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, and will be scaled to reach more people in the next 12 months.

Late to the party

But, although headline grabbing – because, well, it’s Google – the company is not the first to focus on digital skills training as a way of boosting economies and entrepreneurship in Africa.

In fact, many of the organisations active on the continent – such as South Africa’s codeX, Zimbabwe’s Muzinda Hub, Nigeria’s Andela, and Kenya’s Moringa School – are taking the process much further than Google intends to – training full-stack developers.

For these organisations, digital skills provide not only the answer to unemployment on the continent, but also pave the way for Africa to become a global hotspot for digital solutions.

African developers for global future

According to Elizabeth Gould, founder of Project codeX – which is creating a new breed of entrepreneurs through its apprenticeship-style coding courses –, it is an important step that companies with global presence like Google are beginning to invest in the future of Africa’s digital economy.

With the right support and preparation, she believes African digital professionals will be ready to take on a leading role in the world’s future.

“It’s awesome for a company with the global reach and solid African presence of Google to be investing in developing digital talent here on the continent at scale. There are so many bright young Africans who need these kinds of opportunities to kickstart their careers, and so many open jobs demanding these kinds of skills,” says Gould.

“The fact that Google is making this massive commitment validates our conviction at codeX that Africa’s youth are the world’s future. It’s demographically true that in coming decades, Africa will have the world’s largest working age population, so we need to be training them now for the digital future.”

Gould also thinks Africa’s tech entrepreneurs hold the key to addressing pressing local – and global – challenges, underscoring the importance of training the next generation of African digital entrepreneurs.

“We expect that over time we’ll see many more young people equipped with the skills to build thriving digital careers and start their own entrepreneurial ventures solving the grand challenges Africa faces in every facet of the economy, be it education, health, finance, power and infrastructure, natural resource management, and more, as well as helping to showcase and spread the best of African cultures to the rest of the world,” Gould says.

Market your graduates

Zimbabwe’s Muzinda Hub has been training developers at a substantial scale – having trained 1,000 developers to date – through a belief that digital skills provide the answer to Zimbabwe’s crippling unemployment levels.

According to manager Tendai Mashingaidze, the programme has placed many graduates in freelance or outsourced developer positions, but also, the programme has revealed a substantial number of entrepreneurial opportunities, with startups being formed by graduates of the course.

Mashingaidze says, based on Muzinda Hub’s experience, Google needs to ensure it goes beyond simply training people in digital skills, but needs to follow through to helping create reputation and opportunities for its graduates.

“Having trained at large scale and actually placed developers into freelance entrepreneurial opportunities – there is a real opportunity for  entrepreneurial opportunities to be created for the developers. However google will only see this if they make an effort to market the developers aggressively,” Mashingaidze says.

This, he says, is “easier said than done”. Mashingaidze suggests players training Africans in digital skills should work together for the most impact.

Fight the brain drain

Industry expert Anesu Charamba, ICT team leader at Frost & Sullivan Africa, says all the intentions and goals of the various programmes in operation are well-placed – Charamba confirms the world, Africa included, is headed for “irrevocable” digitisation. As such equipping Africa’s workforce with digital skills is imperative, and will help address unemployment, while also allowing entrepreneurship to thrive.

What is key, Charamba concludes, is ensuring opportunities are created for the digital graduates, to avoid Africa losing its valuable human assets.

“The global economy is moving towards active and irrevocable digitization and digitalization.  Equipping individuals with the skills and knowledge to compete in those arenas will actively contribute towards addressing the unemployment issue, further creating platforms for outsourcing […] and of course empower the next generation of entrepreneurs,” Charamba says.  

“A key point to the project will be to ensure that, once training is completed, there is a longer-term strategy in place to integrate and disperse the knowledge and training, minimising the brain drain.”

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Inspired and excited by the African tech entrepreneurial scene, Gabriella spends her time travelling around the continent to report on the most innovative tech startups, the most active investors, and the latest trends emerging in the ecosystem.

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