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From Learning to Earning: Uncovering new opportunities using digital skills

DIGITAL skills are empowering young Africans, bridging the skills gap, and shaping the future of work.

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“DIGITAL learning has given me everything I ever wanted in life… I am a graphic designer, a web developer, and a programming expert,” proudly declares Elvis Warutumu, a Nairobi-based digital creator.

Warutumu, in his mid-20s, not only tutors digitally but also mentors over 5000 digital learners directly enrolled in his courses.

“With my procurement degree, it would have been almost impossible to secure solid employment in Kenya… But hours of learning on different platforms have given me more than just a job,” Warutumu explains.

As the founder of Terra Creations, a creative agency, and a personal website, the young creative offers information, paid classes, and valuable advice on courses and personal development.

Warutumu’s story epitomizes the situation for countless young Africans who are leveraging the continent’s flourishing digital ecosystem to acquire skills and earn a livelihood.

In addition to technical skills, individuals are capitalizing on their unique strengths, such as teaching languages.

Nigerian YouTuber Latifat Kilani, for instance, shares how she makes a good monthly income by teaching Yoruba and Pidgin English online.

“I didn’t need to work more than five hours a day, yet I accumulated enough to cover my expenses,” she explains.

From YouTube to platforms like Course Sera Code Camp, Alison, and IBM, African creatives are turning in droves to self-learning in the wake of the continent’s digital revolution. They are now competing for global job opportunities, remotely.

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Thanks to widespread 4G (and now 5G) wireless connectivity and a trans-continental fibre-optic network, improved internet access (and with it, online learning through mobile devices) has soared.

A 2023 Statista report reveals that Morocco boasts the highest mobile internet access in Africa, with 88.1%. Other top performers include Seychelles (81.6%), Egypt (80.7%), Tunisia (79%), Botswana (73.5%), South Africa (72.3%), Gabon (71.7%), and Algeria (70.9%).

Increased internet access is also growing on the back of growing take-up of smart mobile devices across the continent. The devices not only offer internet access but also a means of creating content, both creative and factual.

“Beyond tutoring, the content I create and share on social media is becoming another revenue stream,” Warutumu explains.

The creator’s TikTok videos consistently garner an average viewership of around 10,000 per month from a follower base of close to 220,000 – all of which translates into potential clients.

Picking up on the opportunity, a number of cross-continental digital skill development programs are rolling out, designed to prepare and position more Africans for the opportunities that the digital space offers.

This week, DevCareer a Nigerian nonprofit, announced a partnership with UK-Nigeria Tech Hub, an initiative of the UK and Nigeria, seeking to impart professional-level digital skills to more than 1700 Nigerians.

A statement by DevCareer announcing the partnership indicates a blend of expert-led training targeting careers in product management, software development and design.

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Similar initiatives include the MTN Skills Academy, which enrols youths to provide digital and financial skills training, enhancing their employment prospects.

MTN partners with digital space companies like SAS Skill Builder to achieve this objective.

Yolanda Cuba, the Group Regional Vice President for the Southern and East African region, emphasizes that the camp aims to “build leadership and create opportunities for people to thrive.”

Additionally, American tech giant Cisco plans to upskill up to 10 million individuals in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region, with a focus on digital and cybersecurity skills.

Reem Asaad, Vice President of Cisco Middle East and Africa, revealed in an interview with Mail & Guardian that three million of these skill upgrades will be provided in Africa.

A Nigerian NGO, The Techy Train Incubator, is also spearheading a digital skills upgrade program for young women in Nigeria, targeting the international digital job market.

According to Warutumu, the major opportunity lies in technical skills. He argues that cultivating a culture of self-learning and regular experimentation is the key to addressing these gaps.

According to a 2019 International Finance Corporation Report, by 2030, an estimated 230 million jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa will require digital skills.

“The opportunities for self-learning in the digital space are immense,” Warutumu said.