Technology is a powerful force for good in a rapidly changing world. However, players in the technology space must start appreciating the important responsibility they have to pull everyone into the digital economy. This will only happen if the right skills are available to enable the digital future.
The Middle East and Africa is home to one quarter of the world’s population (1.86 billion) and could supply the next generation of the global workforce. But are we ready to fill these roles of the future?
In this region, 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.
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.
Efforts across MEA should be focused on our youth population to ensure that technology can benefit all youth to become tomorrow’s leaders. As an example, 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 yet another project called Coding for Employment, in partnership with the African Development Bank, we aim to 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.
We are also conscious of the need to encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM and since 2016, we have collaborated with the Forum for African Women Educationalists to support the training of 25,000 young women and 250 teachers on digital skills.
However, it is important to highlight that 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.
One way of achieving this is by 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.
Initiatives such as the National Digital Literacy Programme by the Government of Kenya targeting to equip learners in all public primary schools with digital technologies in learning is commendable. Through the project, over one million units have been deployed.
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. 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.
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.
As such, it imperative that we continue collaborating 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.
The writer is regional manager Middle East & South Africa Multi-Country Region at Microsoft.