OWALO: Why digital skills are the game changer for Kenya

In Summary
  • The pervasive influence of digital technologies has reshaped society, fundamentally altering how we live, work, conduct business and interact.
  • Both the public and private sectors recognise the imperative to transition into digital enterprises to remain relevant and competitive in the digital era.

In August 2023, Tony Kiplangat, a high school graduate from Kericho County with no prior digital skills, enrolled in the Jitume Digital Enablement Programme at the Rift Valley National Polytechnic. He underwent three months of training in digital annotation.

A month after graduating, he secured a job with an American online platform, where he was employed to create AI models for unmanned self-driving vehicles. By January 2024, he was earning up to Sh170,000, (approximately $1,200) per month. By April 2024, he transitioned to online forex trading, earning up to Sh280,000 (approximately $2,000) per month.

Kenya's National Digital Masterplan 2022–2032 identifies digital skills, such as the training Tony Kiplangat received, to be a critical enabler of the country's digital transformation agenda.

Notably, our substantial investments in ICT infrastructure, including an additional 100,000 km of fibre optic cable, 25,000 wi-fi hotspots, 1,450 digital hubs, data centres and last-mile internet connectivity to millions of homes and businesses would come to nought if Kenyans did not possess requisite digital skills to access digital opportunities and realize their full utility value. 

For us at the Ministry of Information, Communications and the Digital Economy (MIC-DE), the establishment of a knowledge-based economy is a key policy priority. This economic model prioritises the production of goods and services rooted in knowledge-based activities fuelled by technological advancements.

Such an approach positions technical proficiency as a central driver of economic progress, fostering an environment where citizens engage in the acquisition, creation, dissemination and application of knowledge to propel economic and social development. 

An informed and digitally empowered citizenry is poised to yield numerous benefits, including profiting from e-commerce that expands markets beyond the immediate physical catchment area, enhanced inclusivity through digital access to government and other critical services, including banking, health, agriculture and education. We expect an upsurge in productive ICT professionals, heightened innovation, expansion of the job market and the development of ICT products and services for local consumption and export. 

The Kenya National Digital Masterplan envisages training 20 million Kenyans and creating a commensurate number of job opportunities by 2032, positioning ICT as the single largest source of new employment in the economy. Empowering youth to capitalise on digital and digitally enabled jobs through comprehensive training, mentorship, infrastructure provision and enabling policy frameworks forms a cornerstone of this transformative agenda.

Recognising the pivotal role of digital skills in unlocking these opportunities, the government has heavily invested in skilling, upskilling and reskilling initiatives to develop a critical mass of citizens with both basic and intermediate skills to consume ICT services in addition to training IT experts with advanced skills to conceptualise, design, create, innovate and build ICT systems and programmes to transform how we work, play, communicate and do business.

This has been achieved through pioneering training programmes such as the Jitume Digital Enablement Programme and Ajira Digital Programme, both initiated by the Government of Kenya under the MIC-DE and operationalised in collaboration with various partners. 

The programmes are designed to equip youth with essential knowledge and technical skills, facilitating job placement in various digital and digitally enabled fields. These fields include data entry, transcription, video annotation, digital marketing, content writing, e-commerce, social media management, software development, data analysis, web development, virtual assistance, article writing and more.

The courses are structured to be brief, typically lasting about two to three months, ensuring that graduates are market-ready in a short time and can be quickly absorbed into the online job market both locally and internationally.

Graduates of these programmes have successfully secured positions on international online platforms such as Remotask, Upwork, Google, Microsoft, Pepperstone and Taskmate. Locally, they have found opportunities with platforms including IPAY, G-Ajiri, KeNIC, and KaziNow, among others. 

The government has established and operationalised 203 digital hubs and plans to set up one in each of the 1,450 wards by 2027, across all 47 counties. These hubs will provide training, innovation studios and necessary internet access for youth in villages, including unserved and underserved areas.

Currently, these training sites have been equipped with 14,588 Virtual Desktop Devices. Additionally, the MIC-DE has partnered with MPs, who have amended the NG-CDF Act to allow up to three per cent of the NG-CDF to be used for the operational expenses of the hubs.

Each digital hub has the potential to train 300 youths and create an equivalent number of digital jobs, resulting in an average of 1,500 digital jobs per constituency. To date, over 390,968 youths, like Tony Kiplangat, have been trained through both the Jitume and Ajira programmes, leading to over 135,071 online job linkages for our youth.

The government has also established the Kenya Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and the Open University, which collectively underscore our commitment to fostering science, technology and innovation as catalysts for national modernisation and transformation.

Through these strategic interventions, the government aims to democratise access to digital skills, thereby unlocking vast opportunities for digital entrepreneurship and employment across the country.

The pervasive influence of digital technologies has reshaped society on an unprecedented scale, fundamentally altering how we live, work, conduct business and interact. Both the public and private sectors recognise the imperative to transition into digital enterprises to remain relevant and competitive in the digital era.

The resultant digital economy presents vast opportunities to address poverty, inequality and unemployment, forming a pivotal component of the Bottom-Up Economic Transformation Agenda due to its potential to drive inclusive growth and foster youth employment.

In conclusion, Kenya's digital transformation journey hinges upon the cultivation of a skilled workforce adept at navigating the digital landscape. By prioritising digital skills development, investing in digital infrastructure and fostering innovation, Kenya is poised to emerge as a regional ICT hub, driving inclusive growth and socioeconomic development for generations to come.

Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Digital Economy

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