International Business Machines corporation (IBM) is investing $70 million in building much-needed digital, cloud, and cognitive Information and Technology (IT) skills to help support a 21st century workforce in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and other parts of Africa.
The initiative, “IBM Digital – Nation Africa”, provides a cloud-based learning platform designed to provide free skills development programmes for up to 25 million African youths over five years, enabling digital competence and nurturing innovation in Africa.
The Digital – Nation Africa is designed to boost overall digital literacy, increase the number of skilled developers able to tap into cognitive engines, and enable entrepreneurs and prospective entrepreneurs grow businesses around the new solutions.
The initiative will be supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which has a special focus on fostering market-driven ICT skills in Africa and the Middle East.
The plan is expected to take many African youths out of the labour market and secure them with the right information that would enable them contribute positively to economic growth.
This is part of IBM’s global push to build the next generation of skills needed for “New Collar” careers.
“New Collar” is a term used by IBM to describe new kinds of careers that do not always require a four-year college degree but rather sought-after skills in cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence, cloud, and much more.
For African youths to be able to benefit from a cognitive future, IBM said there needs to be a much higher level of digital literacy. At the top of the skills pyramid are developers, who need to know how to create solutions that can leverage the power of cognitive, and entrepreneurs who are aware of the potential.
Africa has approximately 200 million people between the ages of 15 and 24. By 2040, the continent is expected to be home to the world’s largest labour force, with an estimated working age population of one billion (State of Education in Africa Report 2015). Yet many African companies cite local skills gap as one of the major bottlenecks to growth.
Through a free, cloud-based online learning environment delivered on IBM Bluemix, the premier cloud platform for business, the initiative will provide a range of programmes from basic IT literacy to highly sought-after advanced skills including social engagement, digital privacy, and cyber protection.
Advanced users will be able to explore career-oriented IT topics including programming, cybersecurity, data science and agile methodologies, as well as important business skills like critical thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
The initiative aims to empower African citizens, entrepreneurs, and communities with the knowledge and tools to design, develop, and launch their own digital solutions.
Based on Watson, the cognitive online system will adapt and learn. It will review the multiple interactions the education initiative will have with students, to help direct them to the right courses and help IBM refine the courses to better adapt the material for the needs of the users.
Watson will also create a depth of knowledge using anonymous information gathered from interactions with the students. This will help entrepreneurs and developers understand which current Bluemix solutions best meet their needs and refine their idea to help them design a solution that has greatest market potential.
The programme will be launched from IBM’s regional offices in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, and Egypt, to spread the initiative across the continent.
Country General Manager, IBM South Africa, Hamilton Ratshefola, said IBM sees effective, high quality IT education as a key driver of economic vitality in Afric, adding that through access to open standards, best practices, IBM tools, and course materials, the broad scope of this initiative will enable vital skills development.
“In order to find solutions to Africa’s challenges, industries across the spectrum need to enable the existing and future workforce to perform at the forefront of technologies such as cognitive and cloud computing. This will be the key to spurring economic growth,” he stated.
IBM will collaborate with UNDP on opportunities for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills delivery, certification, and accreditation.
UNDP will work with their network of existing government partnerships to extend the programme throughout Africa.
UNDP’s 2015 Human Development Report highlighted that technology is affecting the nature of work by introducing new ways of communicating, new products and new demands for skills. New technologies are also reinforcing and deepening previous trends in economic globalisation, bringing workers and businesses into a global network through outsourcing and global value chains.
“These processes are reshaping work and testing national and international policies. In an attempt to address this global challenge here in South Africa, as well as in other priority countries in Africa.
UNDP is pleased to leverage its global presence, development knowledge, and long standing partnerships to provide context, traction and scale to this collaboration with IBM,” said UNDP Country Director in South Africa, Walid Badawi.