Africa is the new Silicon Valley. As a result, more African tech talent is being included in the global economy. The youth need to embrace having a growth mindset and invest their time in becoming learners in all things. If they then apply that mindset to constant learning about the global shifts, world issues, and how technology can play a role in resolving these, they will ultimately be making a difference in the world.
According to the 2021 global survey done by Stackoverflow among software developers across the world, there is a growing number of developers with no university degrees who have instead focused on acquiring software development skills. The survey also indicates that 53 per cent of developers wrote their first lines of code between the ages of 11-17 years. In Kenya, we need to ask ourselves what path we are creating for this young and curious demographic in our market.
Unfortunately, in Kenya, most software development skills are primarily acquired at the university level, but hundreds of thousands of young people each year miss out on admission to institutions of higher learning. What becomes of them? For example, out of 747,161 candidates who sat the 2020/2021 Kenya Secondary Certificate of Education (KCSE) examinations, only 122,831 were allotted to universities through the Kenya University and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS), and 88,724 were assigned to technical colleges.
Although this year’s university placement statistics have yet to be released, the gap is likely to be even wider because the number of candidates was just under 830,000, while university and technical institution spaces have barely increased.
That being said, and with digital skills becoming increasingly important in the workplace and in business, young people who do not make it to join universities or colleges and have an interest in developing coding skills can take advantage of the numerous platforms that have been availed by entities such as Microsoft to acquire the needed skills.
Encouragingly, some initiatives are already reaching out to schools to provide their students with the skills needed to succeed in the workplace. Microsoft, for example, has collaborated closely with both the government and the private sector to improve access to digital skills training across Africa.
The initiatives range from coding classes for young children and teaching basic computer skills to underprivileged individuals to highly technical learning opportunities like the Game of Learners, which helps university students fine-tune their skills by building real-world solutions under the tutelage of industry professionals.
Just after the start of the pandemic, Microsoft launched an initiative to help 25 million people globally acquire the digital skills needed to survive beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the Africa Transformation Office, Microsoft is looking to invest in the future of 30 million young people by providing digital skills to students, developers, start-ups, SMEs, and underserved communities.
While we have made some progress, the responsibility for ensuring effective transformation in digital skilling cannot be assumed by just a few players. Because of the complex relationships that define youth skills, workplace needs, and our current growth trajectory, transformation must be inclusive. It must consider the needs of everyone, including those who are unable to continue their education.
According to LinkedIn’s 2022 Learning Workplace Report, digital skilling is one of the top three priority areas for learning and development as employees seek renewed growth and purpose from their managers. Organisations that cannot meet these demands face The Great Reshuffle, in which employees seek more fulfilling roles with greater flexibility and personal growth potential.
On our part, and as the world celebrated World Youth Skills Day on 15 July, we reaffirmed our commitment to continue driving strategic interventions aimed at equipping our youth with the skills they need to thrive in the future. Reimagining youth skills, particularly after the pandemic recovery phase, must include a strong digital component that considers an ecosystem-wide shift in perspective.
Catherine Muraga is the Managing Director, Microsoft’s African Development Centre.