SEATTLE, Washington — As technology moves to the forefront of many industries, the demand for digital skills is rising. Developing regions, however, lack the educational resources necessary to keep up with new skill requirements thus causing the working-age population to fall short of employment opportunities. Uneven distribution in access to technology and the internet affect underserved populations. Also known as the digital divide, this phenomenon is making it difficult to break through existing structures of social inequality. Coding for Employment is one of many programs working to end this digital divide.
The Digital Divide
Sub-Saharan African has a rapidly growing youth population but faces among the highest rates of educational exclusion. The digital divide is ever-present in the region, with only about 40% of residents in sub-Saharan countries having access to the internet or internet-capable devices. This critical gap poses a challenge to those searching for stable employment in today’s dynamic, digitally-based labor market. Of the non-student youth population, approximately two-thirds are currently unemployed. This significantly prevents the economy from reaching its full potential.
Coding for Employment Program
Coding for Employment, a program launched by The African Development Bank in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, Microsoft and Facebook, is working to make contemporary digital skills accessible to youth in developing countries. The program is a part of the Jobs for Youth initiative created by The African Development Bank to empower those between ages 15 and 35 living in both urban and rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. The goal is to create educational opportunities and training strategies to accelerate employment in underserved communities. The African Development Bank predicts this initiative will create as many as 25 million communication technology-based jobs by 2025 and have a positive impact on nearly 50 million youth across the continent.
The program is working to build 130 “Centers of Excellence” across sub-Saharan Africa, which will have the capacity to educate an estimated 234,000 youth. University staff and community volunteers teach the training programs. Training is delivered in two phases, focusing on both hard and soft skills that are highly transferable across different job markets. The first phase features a two-day to five-day program, focusing on basic soft skills like communication, leadership and teamwork. This is in addition to teaching more advanced skills such as digital literacy and entrepreneurship strategy.
The main portion of the training consists of a “coding boot camp”, which transitions participants into technical hard skills like programming and data analysis. At the close of the program, those who have successfully completed their training will receive certificates endorsing their skills. The program works in partnership with private sector companies, policy-makers, and other stakeholders to deliver meaningful employment opportunities to graduates of the program.
Program Availability and Benefits
Coding for Employment has launched in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal. It is currently serving all genders but is considering the introduction of an all-female cohort to further its inclusivity efforts by filling the gender gap which persists in many places. Although sub-Saharan Africa ranked among the most improved regions on the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, there is still room for growth. In this region, only about 38% of women are employed in skilled professions. An even smaller number holds positions of power in companies. A long-standing inequality in educational opportunities for women continues to affect their access to critical skill sets needed to compete in today’s workforce.
The youth population is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s strongest assets. Investing in programs like Coding for Employment stimulates long-term economic growth. This happens by transforming entry into the labor market to be more inclusive. Placing youth at the center of a country’s economic agenda can initiate a cycle of innovation. This happens when skilled individuals pursue entrepreneurial ventures that create employment opportunities for others, thus empowering them to attain similar skill sets through mentorship and learning.
Coding for Employment, along with other accessibility-centered approaches, makes digital skills attainable for vulnerable populations. Furthermore, it supports youth in securing futures where they can apply their expertise and thus advances the continent’s economic and social development.
– Sylvie Antal