IBM invests USD 70m to bring digital skills to Africa

IBM (NYSE: IBM) is investing USD 70m (approximately ZAR 945m) in building digital, cloud, and cognitive IT skills to help support a 21st century workforce in Africa, the company said.

The initiative, “IBM Digital – Nation Africa,” provides a cloud-based learning platform designed to provide free skills development programs for up to 25m African youths over five years, enabling digital competence and nurturing innovation in Africa.

This is part of IBM´s global push to build the next generation of skills needed for “New Collar” careers. “New Collar” is a term used by IBM to describe new kinds of careers that do not always require a four-year college degree but rather sought-after skills in cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence, cloud, and much more.

Based on Watson, the cognitive online system will adapt and learn. It will review the multiple interactions the education initiative will have with students, to help direct them to the right courses and help IBM refine the courses to better adapt the material for the needs of the users.

Watson will also create a depth of knowledge using anonymous information gathered from interactions with the students. This will help entrepreneurs and developers understand which current Bluemix solutions best meet their needs and refine their idea to help them design a solution that has greatest market potential.

With the aim of equipping as many as 25m people with sought after IT skills over the next five years, the program will be launched from IBM´s regional offices in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco, and Egypt. This will enable the expansion of the initiative across the continent.

Africa has approximately 200m people between the ages of 15 and 24. By 2040, the continent is expected to be home to the world´s largest labor force, with an estimated working age population of 1bn (*State of Education in Africa Report 2015). Yet many African companies cite a local skills gap as one of the major bottlenecks to growth. In South Africa alone, where more than a quarter of the workforce is unemployed, businesses struggle to find appropriate skills, particularly in the IT field.

The initiative will provide access to thousands of resources, in English, free of charge, including:

Ready-to-use mobile apps
Guides – web guides, demonstrations, interactive simulations, video series, and articles
Online Assessments — A range of self-assessment tests to track the progress of individuals, together with industry recognized ´Open Badges´ aligned to digital competencies. The badges can then be shared with prospective employers
Volunteers — Creation of a volunteer program to support and promote digital literacy within their communities
App Marketplace — Provision of a platform on which new applications can either be made freely available or sold.
The initiative will be supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which has a special focus on fostering market-driven ICT skills in Africa and the Middle East. IBM will collaborate with UNDP on opportunities for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills delivery, certification, and accreditation. UNDP will work with their network of existing government partnerships to extend the program throughout Africa.

UNDP´s 2015 Human Development Report highlighted that technology is affecting the nature of work by introducing new ways of communicating, new products and new demands for skills. New technologies are also reinforcing and deepening previous trends in economic globalization, bringing workers and businesses into a global network through outsourcing and global value chains.

IBM has a direct presence in 24 African countries and has made several significant investments on the continent in recent years, including offices, innovation centers and other advanced facilities. The company has a research laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya and opened a second research facility in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2016.

In 2015, IBM rolled out a major initiative to expand its Africa Technical Academy and Africa University Program, providing advanced skills in cloud, analytics, and big data technologies, reaching today to over 150 academic institutions, in the continent. In September 2016, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training and IBM Morocco, for the launch of P-TECH program (Pathways in Technology Early College High School) in Morocco. P-tech is an innovative global education model, designed by IBM, in close partnership with American educators. The company is also working with dozens of start-ups in South Africa.

IBM has been present in Africa since the 1920´s, and has a long history of collaborating with educational institutions and providing transformational solutions focused on providing value to higher education and its contribution to society.

IBM engages with communities around the globe by offering its technology, services, and expertise to solve some of the world´s most complex problems, applying technology and expertise to societal issues such as education development.

The IBM Academic Initiative provides universities with access to IBM software, courseware and experts around key technologies such as cloud, cognitive computing and security.