Private sector key in addressing Africa’s ICT Skill Shortage

In Summary
  • A recent news lightening up the national morale is that African ICT students emerged among the world’s best at the Huawei ICT Competition Global finals, taking multiple top prizes.
  • Despite this however, Africa is seriously lagging on the digital front.
Huawei ICT competition
Huawei ICT competition

A recent news lightening up the national morale is that African ICT students emerged among the world’s best at the Huawei ICT Competition Global finals, taking multiple top prizes. This is one of the best record of African students’ performance in global ICT competition of its kind.

Despite this however, Africa is seriously lagging on the digital front. For example, internet penetration, quality, and affordability are very low compared to the rest of the world.

Internet penetration in 2019 averaged 39.6 percent in Africa compared to 62.7 percent in the rest of the world, though there is immense variation among countries, ranging from 89.8 percent in Kenya to 5.3 percent in Burundi. Furthermore, in 2017, Africa used only 1 percent of the world’s total international internet bandwidth. The median mobile broadband download speed in Africa is 2.7 megabits per second (Mbits/s), roughly half the global median of 5.2 Mbits/s, and the monthly cost of a fixed broadband connection is 36.6 percent of gross national income, compared with 14.5 percent globally.


African countries spend about 1.1% of GDP on digital investment, while advanced economies spend an average of 3.2%. Thus, business-as-usual is not an option, as it will continue to widen the digital divide and drive further marginalization of Africa.

 The success of students reveals that information and communications technology (ICT) is integral to national development agenda. Meanwhile, these hard-earned medals and honors also remind us that Africa is still in dire need of ICT talent. What mechanism or ecosystem does each country need to develop in order to supply the African digital economy with ICT talent it needs? And what role can each stakeholder play in creating the synergy of talent cultivation? 

Africa’s youth population is rising exponentially, but many African graduates are failing to find good jobs, partly because of skills shortages and mismatches. A strong private sector is required to satisfy the large and growing demand of Africa’s youth population. A new AfDB paper recommends that African countries invest in vocational training across education institutions and industry

“What we do with that population of youth today will determine the future of work in the world. Africa must become the brimming workshop of the world — with a knowledgeable and highly skilled workforce that’s able to propel the continent into the fourth industrial revolution,” said Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina, AfDB’s president.

As for cross-sectoral collaboration, the AfDB recommends that African countries should create skills enhancement zones where governments, the private sector, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations collaborate on the design and implementation of plans for selected industries with strong competitive potential.

As technologies like Big Data, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and the Internet-of-Things revolutionizing the way we work, learn and live, companies in private sector are harnessing this trend to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals while still maintaining commercial success. An innovative firm knows that it will usually have a temporary edge over its competitors and thus an ability to earn above-normal profits before competitors can catch up.

An example would be Silicon Valley’s largely unique set of assets—the presence of technology giants, world-class universities, abundant venture capital, and a hyper competitive yet collaborative culture that celebrates both risk and failure—the massive scale of innovation in the area should not be a surprise.

The involvement of the private sector in skills provision may be informed by stakeholder motivation, whether this be to increase productivity or profit, a desire to secure a skilled workforce or to deliver corporate social responsibility. Private companies may be involved in training, funding or sharing knowledge with workers.

Some cases in Asia has proven that investment from the private sector can drive rapid economic transformation. Such investment in Africa has focused on the exploitation of natural resources, which does not always improve the skills base of the population.Youth unemployment can only be addressed if learners are equipped with the skills needed on the labour market. For this reason, the private sector should be involved the private sector plays an important role in skills development. It comprises of large corporations, for-profit institutions, voluntary organizations and NGO’s. The engagement of the private sector is especially crucial in the implementation of technical vocational education and training (TVET). Its role in TVET is not only in terms of training provision but also includes a range of other areas. These comprise policy formulation, curricula development, the setting of occupational standards priority setting, labor demand forecasting and curricular and quality indicators, on-the-job training.

For public-private cooperation to flourish in Africa, we will need government’s participation in the design and implementation of initiatives they support. Governments can use favorable policies to orient non-state providers, such as private and multinational companies, toward promoting education and skill transfer among the youth. It is crucial for governments to forge mutually beneficial partnerships with the private sector – for instance, regarding apprenticeship and employment.