Innovation

Africa: the new digital skills outsourcing location

Raspberry Pi helps drive education in Tanzanian school. www.appsafrica.comWith ICT skills beginning to take on a prominent position in education agendas across Africa and the youthful population of Africa increasingly tech-savvy, a number of organisations believe digital work could provide an answer to the high unemployment rates on the continent, and see a future for Africa as a global digital skills exporter – Gabriella Mulligan.

One such organisation that believes digital skills will form a significant part of Africa’s future is Cape Town-based Project codeX, which runs programming courses with the aim of addressing the lack of trained developers in Africa.

According to co-founder Elizabeth Gould, the size of Africa’s young population means that equipped with digital skills, Africa could present a key digital workforce capable of serving the global market.

“We at codeX do believe Africa has the potential to become a digital skills exporter. Part of it is demographics: by 2030, Africa will have the world's largest working age population.“We at codeX do believe Africa has the potential to become a digital skills exporter. Part of it is demographics: by 2030, Africa will have the world’s largest working age population. By 2100, 40 per cent of the world will be African. African youth are increasingly digitally savvy, and use mobile internet as their native connection to the world, which the rest of the world is only now catching up to,” Gould says.

Gould points to the global gap in development skills, prompting widespread outsourcing of work to places such as India and Eastern Europe.  She believes Africa can join this trend and be an exporter of digital skills, however this will take time as digital education improves and becomes more prevalent on the continent.

“It is by no means automatic, nor will it be easy. Only 12 per cent of Africans have access to any sort of tertiary education, and almost none of it is in software development. We at codeX consistently hear that the ICT education that does exist at universities is by and large irrelevant to industry needs. That is why codeX, with its focus on project-driven learning and close collaboration with industry, exists,” she said.

Andela claims to recruit the “brightest young people in Africa”, which it does through a combination of online and word-of-mouth marketing efforts, Jeremy Johnson, co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Andela tells Appsafrica.com. Once applications are in, candidates are vetted with only 1 per cent of applicants making it through to join the programme – making Andela a highly selective organisation.

In Zimbabwe, the Muzinda hub has a similar focus, and is working to train Zimbabwe’s youth in digital skills to address the high levels of unemployment in the country.

According to manager Tendai Mashingaidze, Africa boasts a number of characteristics making it ideally placed to become a skills exporter – such as low hiring costs, and widespread knowledge of key international languages.

“We need to understand what factors companies that outsource are considering when choosing a destination. These are low costs, good communication, similar time zones and quality of jobs done. The high unemployment rate makes developers from Africa cost much less. Time zones between Africa and Europe are pretty similar and we have a good command of English, French and Portuguese. Based on this I think we tick the main criteria,” says Mashingaidze.

However, Mashingaidze notes that it will be difficult for Africa to draw work away from established outsourcing destinations such as India, and as such quality of work completed at low costs must be the primary selling points.

“The key is for Africa to position itself as a low cost destination. India will probably still be attractive but we have a lot to offer when it comes to communication and having much more work friendly time zones,” he said.

“We need to find ways to make sure that our quality competes with traditional destinations such as India.”

With efforts to increase the levels of digital literacy across Africa still in their early days, the continent is some way off gaining a reputation as a key outsourcing location.  However, Africa’s youthful and growing population is a huge asset which could forge a new future for the continent, by answering the high demand for digital workers worldwide.

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Image credit: Tanzdevtrust

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