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Digital upskilling

Bridging the digital divide is Africa’s answer to youth unemployment

Written by Helmut Engelbrecht -West Africa Regional Chief Executive at Standard Bank Group

Apart from fueling one of the greatest financial crises in modern memory, the COVID-19 pandemic also fundamentally changed the world of work. Due to the circumstances the outbreak created, digital transformation was essentially forced upon companies. Survival depended on adopting technological practices, online platforms, and digital solutions that many businesses would’ve preferred to adopt over several years, not within a few months.

This means that the digital transformation wave that started in in the twentieth century has significantly gained momentum. For businesses, remaining competitive now depends on constantly integrating the right digital technologies to remain digitally mature. To realise this, digitally skilled employees are needed to implement these technologies. Digital skills have become key according to 92% businesses, a recent report from Learning & Work Institute shows.

Unfortunately, more and more companies are reporting that the digital skills gap is widening. According to the Digital Skills Statistics report, 69% of employers prefer employees with data science skills over those without, with 55% of employers blaming a lack of key digital skills for the reason behind low company innovation. Looking to the future, predications are that globally, the workforce will require almost 150 million technology-orientated jobs in the next five years.

Employment depends on digital economy

In terms of employment, COVID had devastating consequences for Africa as well. According to research, 20 million people on our continent lost their job at the peak of the pandemic. Looking at specific countries, some are currently facing the highest unemployment statistics they’ve ever seen. In Nigeria, the number of unemployed individuals reached a staggering 23 million in 2022, which equates to 33% of the population.

With projections stating that Africa will have 2.5 billion people calling this continent their home by 2050, approximately 15 million new jobs will be needed by 2025 to combat this crisis. Worsening the situation is the reality that in recent years, only three million formal jobs were created annually, while 10 – 12 million youth enter the African workforce each year.

Therefore the digital economy will play a critical part in generating much-needed career opportunities. However, this solution can’t be realised if a commitment isn’t made by governments and businesses alike to invest in the youth of Africa by developing these new in-demand tech skills.

In fact, as a continent, we find ourselves at a tipping point. According to the People’s Charter on Jobs in Africa report, most organisations believe that now is the time for investment into job creation to enable the youth to harness their potential. Only by doing so can our continent have hope for a much-needed economic breakthrough. This challenge evidently requires a multi-stakeholder commitment to move the dial.

Unlocking the youth’s potential

As Africa’s largest bank, Standard Bank is passionate about facilitating this economic leap. With the ambition to drive the continent’s growth, we understand how critical it is to create new employment opportunities and upskill the next generation of employees. To help build the bridge to overcome this skills gap, Stanbic IBTC and Stanbic Ghana, both part of Standard Bank Group, have reiterated their commitment to equipping their youth with digital skills to be competitive in the tech-savvy industry and advance their careers.

In Nigeria, Stanbic IBTC’s Digital Skills Empowerment Programme also known as DiSEP was launched to provide Nigerian youths with digital skills to improve their abilities and broaden their digital scope, providing them with an edge in the labour market. Through this digital talent initiative, 340 young Nigerians have been empowered to build and develop required tech skills, which targets scarcity of tech skills within the ecosystem. Specifically, participants acquired certification in emerging technology including MS Certified Azure Database Administrator, IBM Applied AI Professional Certificate, IBM Cybersecurity Analyst Professional Certificate, Google Certified Associate Android Developer and AWS Certified Associate Developer.

 With these, they broaden their digital scope, giving them an edge in the skilled labour market.

Equally Stanbic Ghana has shown its commitment to the youth of that country by addressing graduates at various tertiary educational institutions on the importance of taking advantage of the new opportunities in the digital space. Mr Kwamina Asomaning, Chief Executive Stanbic Ghana has been encouraging the youth to broaden their minds to include technology careers, as he believes that the ongoing digital revolution is creating opportunities for human interactions, new business models, and reshaping the way firms compete with one another.

In addition, a partnership between Stanbic Bank Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Women in (WiSTEM) was recently formed to equip 250 Senior High School (SHS) girls from 23 schools in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The aim is to bridge the gender gap in STEM courses and careers in the country by equipping them with a complete skill-set for addressing future developmental challenges.

Stanbic Bank Ghana also pledged to donate 200 laptops in support of KNUST’s “One Needy Student, One Laptop Project”.

With programmes and initiatives such as these, we believe that young school leavers and graduates will be able to break a new mold of opportunities in the digital landscape, which is crucial for our continent’s future. Within the minds of these young generations lie ideas that can change their country and benefit the continent. But this will only be realised if we take it upon ourselves to provide them with the skills needed to carve their way in the future world of work.