Technology multinational IBM launched a $70-million (R945-million) digital literacy and skills development initiative aimed at training 25-million people in Africa over five years.
The Digital Nation Africa (DNA) initiative is being undertaken in partnership with African universities, companies and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
IBM CEO, president and chairperson Ginni Rometty says the initiative will leverage the company’s Bluemix cloud-as-a-service platform to make content available to digital entrepreneurs in Africa to develop marketable services and products or to any person in Africa who wants to learn about digital technologies or develop marketable skills, though the focus of the initiative is on the millennial generation, from ages 15 to 24.
The cloud platform enables any device to be used to access the courses and materials, and the youth who register for formal training – which will also be accredited through the assistance of the UNDP, governments and academic partners – will be able to build their skill sets in the areas that interest them.
The initiative will focus on sought-after skills including cloud, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and data science, says IBM South Africa GM Hamilton Ratshefola.
“[Our] announcement is the appropriate response to the challenges facing Africa, including inequality, lack of skills and unemployment, as it seeks to address these challenges directly,” he adds.
“Africa will have a working-age population of one-billion people within two decades and the ability of companies to grow and lift people into the middle class is crucial; however, addressing the skills mismatch, where about 50% of people looking for work do not have the skills sought, [is vital],” says Rometty.
“Our training programmes have reached thousands of people across Africa so far, but we have the ability to reach millions – tens of millions – of people. “This initiative will see IBM investing $70-million over five years to train 25-million people in contemporary digital skills and, in so doing, prepare them to work in the new economy,” she says.
The company is also making use of its cognitive computing system, Watson, to analyse the development of those using the platform, customise content and suggest additional skills or work opportunities.
Further, the platform makes it possible for digital entrepreneurs to have direct application program interfaces into Watson systems, which means that they can include capabilities such as language translation and customer sentiment analysis in their applications and products, says IBM Middle East and Africa skills development and university programmes manager Juan Pablo Napoli.
“DNA is a free, online learning platform, where people, including the youth and those who want to learn more about these technologies, can learn about cognitive abilities, programming languages and agile development. However, we cannot do it alone and the aim is to leverage this platform to enable all stakeholders across the continent to add to it to make it a success in their communities and [their] countries,” says Ratshefola.
“We must bring not just the youth but everyone to work in the new economy. We will be taking this initiative and idea to the rest of the world,” states Rometty.
The eventual aim is to have the platform functioning as a digital skills marketplace where people can search for jobs requiring their accredited skills and companies can search for skills and combinations of skills – some without a job title – and find people who have completed accredited courses in those disciplines.