Kenya lacks enough digital skills to meet growing demand in job market

digital Skills

Kenya’s digital economy is expected to generate 9.24 percent of her total GDP by 2025.

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In a few years to come, there won’t be enough skills to fill job positions created by Kenya’s growing start-up and innovation ecosystem unless government and academia boost efforts to develop these skills.

According to a study by Huawei Kenya, UNESCO and the Africa Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), by the year 2030, 50-55 percent of jobs in Kenya will depend on digital skills, attributed to the adoption of 5G networks, cloud technologies and data centers by SMEs.

These are expected to create new opportunities which will require more ICT personnel. New opportunities lie mainly in security, data analysis and processing, cloud computing, IoT and connected devices, and value addition through the incorporation of artificial intelligence and machine learning.

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of the digital economy to the country's development and increased the urgency of creating more and better jobs for Kenyan youth. However, as the economy evolves, the skills needed to take advantage of the changes and drive change are also changing. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that we nurture and influence the entire ecosystem to build the skills required to take advantage of the digital economy,” noted Huawei Kenya CEO Will Meng.

Digital economy

According to Mr Meng, Kenya’s reliance on ICT is expected to be much higher than most African countries. While Africa expects the digital economy to contribute about 5.2 percent of its GDP by 2025, Kenya’s digital economy is expected to generate 9.24 percent of her total GDP by 2025. Therefore, interventions that can contribute to further strengthening the digital economy will be desirable. One such intervention is talent cultivation.

“The ICT sector has been amongst the fastest growing in the country and will continue to be so for years to come. We must be ready for this growth by creating the workforce necessary to meet future needs and current needs. These call for concerted efforts, both at national and industry levels, for digital talent cultivation in Kenya to address the gap between the existing ICT knowledge and skills and the projected demand by the industry to help drive and sustain the digital economy,” noted Meng.

Though Kenya ranks highly in ICT skills development in Africa (top 3 or 5 in Africa in most indexes), it is much lower in the global context. The country ranks 70 out of 79 countries by Huawei Global Connectivity Index, 84 out of 134 countries by Network Readiness Index and 105 out 158 countries by UNCTAD’s 2021 readiness for frontier technology index.

This can be attributed to factors such as weak academia-industry collaboration that are inhibiting ICT skills development. Universities are offering curricula and teaching practices that are not adequately aligned with the needs of the job market. With rapidly evolving ICT technologies and the slow curricula review processes, most universities are constrained to catch up with expanding demand for IT skills on emerging technologies.

“The level of university-industry collaboration is rated low due to several barriers, including the absence of policies for incentivising partnership efforts in the universities, and lack of institutional and national support structures to coordinate establishment of such partnerships,” notes the report.

The report further notes that there is a need for more funding and opportunities for industrial attachment and internships, especially at TVET level. There are few undergraduate internship opportunities and most students have to find their own industrial attachments and internships with only 5 percent helped by their respective departments. There is also scarcity of industrial attachment opportunities offered by the private sector.

Labour market

“If we don’t act now, Kenya and Africa will remain in the abyss of an unattractive labour force that cannot satisfy the modern labour market,” noted Principal Secretary for State Department for Vocational and Technical Training, Ministry of Education Dr Margaret Wawuda Mwakima.

The study highlights that there is a growing, but still low number of ICT graduates at intermediate and advanced ICT skills level with total estimated at less than 5,000 ICT students graduating per year.

The study recommends increasing this figure by supporting girls and women to get into ICT careers as they only make up around a third of current ICT students due to many barriers.

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