Tech professionals around the world fear that new technological innovations such as ChatGPT, Metaverse and other AI tools will put millions of people in various fields out of work. What is needed now, however, is digital competence and talent coaching to help young people acquire digital competence early.
The World Economic Forum in its 2020 report estimated that AI will create 97 million jobs by 2025 to help support the new digital economy and will require humans as technology enablers.
Despite various interventions geared towards the growth of the digital economy including digital skills development, a vast majority of young people still lack these skills and infrastructure. This is why President William Ruto, has led the government to the forefront, ensuring that young people are exposed to the new technology advancement brought about by the digital revolution.
In March, during his three-day tour of Southern Nyanza, we saw the president launching a Digital Empowerment Centre with over 100 computers at Mabera Technical and Vocational College. While at Kisii National Polytechnic the president emphasized the government’s commitment to distribute computers to enhance Information Communication Technology (ICT) training in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVETs) with each college to receive 100 computers that will equip over 500,000 students in TVETs with skills that are in demand in today’s digital age. The launching of these Digital labs with Virtual Desktops Infrastructure complements the success of the existing digital program such as Ajira Digital and Kenya Youth Employment Program. Thus, young women and men in the various Ajira Clubs across TVETs and universities can utilize the resources to access work-readiness skills and participate in online work.
The president encouraged young people to utilize the computers to work and earn online “I want to find 500-1000 young people working online in my next visit to Kisii National Polytechnic. We value the young people and we’re going to ensure young people become part of the transformation of Kenya,” the President said. The students from these institutions and others across the country who continue to receive the Free Ajira Digital Training, mentorship and job linkages will now be able to access the virtual digital infrastructure-computers in these digital labs to bid and deliver meaningful online work to earn a dignified income to support themselves with bills like daily upkeep, rent, et al while still in college and relieve their parents some of the financial burden they have to bear to support their education.
Mabera Technical and Vocational College and Kisii National Polytechnic are not the first or only Institutions where the President launched the digital labs. In fact, last year in December, the president opened the first Digital Innovation Lab at Kabete National Polytechnic, dubbing the desktop “a digital wheelbarrow” to foster innovation and create a platform for young people to access digital work. To date there are over 44 digital labs in other TVETs across the country. This demonstrates the government’s commitment to teaching young people digital skills.
Whilst Kenya was the first country to invent Mpesa, which is still celebrated globally today and also prides itself as the Africa’s Silicon Valley with some of the best digital minds in the world, a majority of young people in Kenya have never turned on a computer or even seen a laptop before proceeding to TVETs or higher education institutions. Digital skills are critical for employability and could reduce Kenya’s devastating youth unemployment rate. Technology enables access to information, fosters collaboration and civic engagement. As we move forward, the President clearly understands that enabling young people to use technology responsibly and creatively will enable them to participate actively in the digital economy.
Ajira Digital, a Kenyan government initiative under the Ministry of ICT and the Digital Economy, are implemented through the eMobilis Technology Training Institute and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), with a strategic partnership of the Mastercard Foundation, are bridging the gap empowering young people with digital work skills development and linkages. For instance, Ajira Digital mission is to empower over one million young people to access digital and digitally-enabled work job opportunities by accelerating public and private sector digitization and outsourcing in the bid to position Kenya as a preferred place of employment for multinationals and a premier global freelance hub.
Digital skills are necessary tools to reduce poverty, unemployment and inequality, at the same time improve employability and livelihoods. A 2017 report by the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI) shows that Kenya’s unemployment rate stood at 39.1 per cent which is the highest in East Africa. This has forced many graduates to resort to online jobs like academic writing, copywriting, digital marketing as well as data entry and management.
As a nation we need to understand online or remote work, spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic and seen as a temporary means of allowing businesses to continue operating and retain jobs is to take root. This is true not only in Kenya, but all over the world. This calls for youths in this country to identify themselves as versatile people who can quickly adapt to business needs and new market demands around the world, anytime, anywhere through the free skills development and job linkages offered by the Ajira Digital Program and Jitume Digital Labs. Youths should challenge and redefine themselves with the ongoing changes brought about by the digital revolution. Rapid adoption of these skills, especially cloud-based programming and AI, will reduce the high unemployment rate seen today in the country. A 2022 survey by Tifa commissioned by Ajira indicated that there are close to 1.9 million Kenyans working online and this number can only grow in future.
Since its inception Ajira Digital program has aimed at providing an end-to-end solution for young people to work and earn online which is what the president is advocating for. The program has partners like eMobilis charged with the operationalization of Ajira Youth Empowerment Centers found at constituencies across the country, the institutionalization of Ajira Clubs in Universities and Technical & Vocational Educational Trainings (TVETs) as well as the implementation of training and mentorship across the country. On the other hand, KEPSA supports in catalyzing digitization for the private sector and e-government to create demand for the digital and digitally-enabled work skills offered by the program supported by the Mastercard Foundation.
As educators and champions of digital skills it is our mandate to assist young people to develop the skills sets relevant to market needs. Through Ajira Digital program, youths are mentored and empowered with desirable skills to impact the unemployment rate in this country.
The writer is the MD and co-founder of eMobilis Technology Training Institute