Digital literacy skills programme transforms young entrepreneurs

DN COAST DIGITRUCK 1807B

Tom Mboya Primary School pupils in Mombasa in a Digitruck at Swahilipot Hub. The Digitruck is an initiative to enhance digital literacy, foster innovation and bridge the digital divide at the grassroots, including budding entrepreneurs. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG

Nearly half of entrepreneurs and youth in Kenya who have received digital literacy training over the last four years have reported a rise in income after venturing into e-commerce, online marketing and other Internet-based jobs, with those without an income dropping by a quarter after the training.

A survey of youth and entrepreneurs trained under the DigiTruck digital literacy skills programme shows that the upward mobility in earnings was accompanied by a rise in both part-time and full-time employment, including among those who previously listed themselves as self-employed in low-earning jobs.

The findings of the survey, which was carried out on youth who have been trained under the DigiTruck public-private partnership programme that has run since October 2019, reflect a shift in employment opportunities beyond the traditional formal jobs market, whose growth has stagnated in recent years.

DigiTruck, a global digital inclusion initiative from Chinese tech company Huawei, is run in Kenya jointly with the Ministry of Information, communications and the Digital Economy, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Creative Economy, Safaricom, and the global mobile network association GSMA.

The programme has trained about 4,000 participants for 40 hours each on digital skills, which include the use of smart devices, coding, marketing, website creation, avoiding online fraud, creating documents and presentations and finding online jobs.

The survey, covering 800 out of the 4,000 trainees, found that those whose income was below Sh10,000 a month before training fell from 32 percent (250 persons) to 25 percent (195 persons). It was released jointly by Huawei and the ICT Authority on the sidelines of the ongoing Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

“Thirty-five percent of the respondents reported that their change in income was due to starting a business with their new business skills,” read the survey findings in part.

“The respondents also mentioned the ability to apply for online jobs such as transcribing, online writing, database management, running cyber-related enterprises, and online marketing, among others, indicating an expanded job market beyond traditional employment settings.”

The number reporting that their income rose to between Sh10,000 and Sh20,000 from less than Sh10,000 previously went up by 27 percent to 172.

Meanwhile, the number whose income jumped to the Sh20,000-Sh30,000 bracket went up by 44.3 percent, from 39 to 70.

Those whose earnings increased into the Sh30,000 to Sh40,000 range went up fourfold to 31, from seven previously, while those now reporting income above Sh40,000 doubled from 15 to 31 individuals.

In terms of employment status, the ratio of unemployed respondents dropped from 37 percent before training to 31 percent after being trained. Those employed on a part-time basis rose from nine percent to 13 percent, and those on full-time employment from six to 11 percent.

In a tough economy, a growing population of youth have been turning to the digital economy to seek work opportunities, but many are hampered by a lack of necessary digital skills that would enable them to compete favourably in what is essentially a global race for opportunities.

Over the last four years, employment opportunities in the formal sector have been curtailed by a mix of local and global shocks.

The most notable setbacks to jobs were brought by the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced the closure of businesses particularly in the hospitality sector, and drought that impacted the agricultural sector, Kenya’s biggest source of employment.

Companies have also struggled with higher costs of doing business due to higher energy and input costs, as well as impaired demand for their goods and services due to reduced consumer spending power on high inflation.

The most recent employment data published by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), shows that the number of Kenyans without jobs increased to 2.97 million by the end of 2022, from 2.7 million a year earlier.

Young people below the age of 29, mainly secondary school and college graduates, were the hardest hit by joblessness, where more than half of those without jobs (1.54 million people) were aged between 20 and 29 years.

The unemployed persons comprise those actively looking for jobs and those who have despaired and quit searching for work, according to the KNBS.

Years of strong economic growth have created jobs in Kenya, but they are mostly low-paying, informal and coming at a rate that economists say is too low to absorb the rapidly growing youth population.

In terms of the distribution of workers by wage levels in the private sector, 42.5 percent or 882.5 million workers out of a total workforce of 2.08 million earned less than Sh50,000 per month by the end of 2022.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.