– Ryno Rijnsburger, Chief Technology Officer, Microsoft 4Afrika
Much is made of the need to empower our youth and close the gap between skills acquired during studies and the skills required by companies for ongoing employment. No one is diminishing the urgency of this task or the need to create workforce-ready youth, but we ignore the upskilling and reskilling needs of our current workforce at our peril.
The accelerated pace of innovation across industries brings a unique set of challenges to maintaining a relevant workforce. The Microsoft Future of Work Skills research shows clearly that organisations are struggling to find the right skills to enable digital innovation. The report also highlights the need for companies in the Middle East and Africa to take a multi-faceted approach to finding needed skills. Alongside recruitment from within and beyond their industries, companies must engage in upskilling and reskilling current staff.
The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2018 Future of Work report stressed an “upskilling imperative” for the workforce in an increasingly digitised world. Without doubt, a workforce sufficiently equipped with a comprehensive set of digital competencies would have a greater chance of standing to gain from new job opportunities arising from technological advances, Digital Intelligence’s DQ Global Standard Report 2019 notes.
Lifelong learning will keep employees relevant
Over 230 million jobs in sub-Saharan Africa will require digital skills by 2030, resulting in almost 650 million training opportunities, including retraining, reports the IFC Digital Skills in sub-Saharan Africa study. Self-learning is key to ongoing sustainable employment – without the drive to continuously improve skills, current employees will be left behind. Our mandate is to bring our expert workforce along on the journey. Through the Microsoft 4Afrika initiative, we believe it’s critical that we invest in continuous learning for our expert workforce who will be the guides and mentors to the new generation of skilled ICT workers.
Developing new skills is key
In fact, the LinkedIn Workplace Learning Report 2019 reports that the skills gap tops the priority list currently, with the decreasing shelf life of skills challenging corporations to play catch-up in hiring and developing staff. Understanding the impact of technology and automation on skills development was ranked in the top seven areas to focus on. It’s not only about technical skills – more complex 4IR skills are also in demand – skills such as complex problem-solving, negotiation skills, project management and critical thinking. These are skills that cannot yet be replicated by an intelligent machine.
Online learning is experiencing an increase in popularity. Since 2017, 59 percent of learning and development professionals surveyed in the Workplace Learning Report say they are spending more money on online learning, although we are aware that this can never fully replace in-person training.
The advantage of online-based learning is that it enables modern learners to upskill when and where they need to. Kevin Alves is an IT Manager in Angola who was working with a Dubai-based bank and was initially unsure how to approach the project he was working on for the bank. Through enrolment in free Microsoft Cloud Society courses, he was able to find and develop the skills he needed to build the foundation of the project and continue to see it through to success.
With 152,000 registered users in the Middle East and Africa taking advantage of access to a range of industry-recognised certifications, Cloud Society is enabling employees and entrepreneurs alike can to upskill at their own pace, in their own time.
Investing in talent
Future-proof employees and entrepreneurs alike are an important part of the digital skilling mix, particularly entrepreneurs who either want to upskill their existing business with technology, or those who want to start a business that is tech-enabled. The Microsoft4Afrika Skills Labs (a programme previously known as the AppFactory) have seen great success. Young learners gain the skills needed to succeed in evolving business environments – since graduating the first cohorts of the Skills Lab in Ghana, several of the apprentices have gone on to start exciting careers or businesses. Some of these young entrepreneurs started a company called Kaya Move – a technology solution that facilitates and manages the commercial transport of agricultural materials and produce.
Graduates from these Labs have also been snapped up by companies looking to add to their skills base. In Nigeria, Sidmach Technologies hired all 12 graduates of their first AppFactory apprenticeship programme. As a result, today they have one of the highest data and artificial intelligence capabilities in our local partner network.
A diverse approach is necessary
It’s clear that making learning experiences an everyday part of professional life is critical. Core skills relevant to the modern work environment, regardless of industry vertical and employer profile, should be instilled in everyone. New approaches to skills development using blended learning strategies have been rapidly ingrained in the most successful of companies, with self-paced learning and a motivation to be relevant being picked up by employees when driven with the right organisational culture and mindset. The economic and social benefits are evident to these companies and surrounding ecosystems.
For our customers, we employ a diverse approach that includes a mix of classroom and online training, mentoring and experiential learning such as hackathons and workshops to extend the skills of their employees who are working with our products. This is not limited to ICT employees – digital skills are needed enterprise-wide, with Operations, Sales and Marketing departments also searching for digitally skilled staff.
We’re also cognisant that sometimes, experience trumps classroom learning. When a Microsoft volunteer from the MySkills4Afrika programme worked with startup MoVAS Group in Kenya to migrate their solution to Azure and the Microsoft Cloud, the group – which analyses non-traditional data on mobile phones to assess credit worthiness and offer micro-loans to unbanked populations – experienced a 300 percent jump in lending. The programme pairs our skilled employees with partners who need help with specific projects. Our volunteers bring much-needed insights and experience, helping our customers to unlock workloads and develop their projects – to date 400 organisations have been supported by over 600 volunteers.
We firmly believe that our heavy investment into upskilling the existing workforce will reap dividends. However, whether you’re just starting out, or are mid-career, one thing is certain – every individual must take charge of their own development.
It is only with focus on both the youth and mature learner audiences that we will be met with success. Organisations’ skills plans must drive people to take individual control of their learning journeys, while ensuring that the skills gap narrows considerably.