The future of digital work depends on more than technical skills

Software skills can be essential for much of 21st century work, but candidates also need soft skills to be reliable employees.

Rémi Abère and Panos Constantinides

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As the world’s population ages, Africa will be home to more than a quarter of the total global population under 25 by 2030. By the end of this decade, the number of people in the country’s labor force. east continent should have grown more than the rest of the world combined. This makes the region a major growth pole for digital talent and, therefore, a crucial source of economic dynamism in the world.

Yet the continent still produces relatively few workers with skills in software and other technological skills. The problem is certainly not the demand; it now has a large and growing technological sector. Africa has an emerging IT ecosystem, comprising a growing crop of digital entrepreneurs, startups and innovation centers, and it is one of the fastest growing technology markets in the world. The use of the Internet has grown considerably, with South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia and Morocco leading the way. US and Chinese-based tech giants including Alibaba, Huawei, IBM and Microsoft are investing heavily in Africa. Local businesses, like eCampus, Interswitch, Jumia, Konga, M-Pesa, Paystack and Rubies Bank, are also becoming key parts of the African tech ecosystem.

Faced with this growing demand for labor, some African-based companies are complaining about their inability to attract employees with sufficient digital skills. The continent needs more young people with the right skills for digital work, but imparting the right skills to aspiring young African workers is often a challenge.

One solution is to use digital technologies to train young people at a distance. This is a necessary approach, given that most Africans live in rural areas with limited educational offerings and variable internet access. Western tech companies have been motivated to develop low-cost internet solutions to tap into the huge workforce and achieve economies of scale. These companies have embarked on mass capacity and skills building programs for local workers, and now the Asian giants are following suit.

The good news is that so far these low cost online courses are proving to be an effective way to provide technical training. After a few weeks or months of instruction, trainees can work as software developers without a college degree. Data science and business analytics are also popular fields of study. Interns enter what former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty called employment of “new collars”, which she hopes to replace many blue collar jobs.

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