Here's Another Powerful Player Focusing on Digital "New Collar" Jobs in Africa

IBM has been on a campaign to support the 21st-century workforce and has its sights set on Africa. This makes sense given that 600 million people in Africa are under the age of 25. If you want to find lots of young workers, this is a good place to look. That's even more true if you want to find young people who could use an economic boost: Over 40 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa live on less than $1.90 per day.

And so young people are the population IBM is targeting with its IBM Digital-Nation Africa initiative. In doing so, it joins a number of other corporate and private funders who want to enhance workforce skills in Africa amid a huge demographic youth bulge on the continent. Bolstering digital savvy is one key approach. 

IBM recently announced its plan to invest $70 million toward a “much-needed digital cloud, and cognitive IT skills to help support a 21st-century workforce in Africa.” The initiative—which is being launched in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt—provides a cloud-based education platform offering free digital skills development programs. IBM aims to help some 25 million young people over the course of five years build the skills necessary for what it refers to as “new collar” careers.

According to IBM, the term new collar refers to careers that don’t necessarily require a four-year college degree, but do require knowledge in technology-related fields such as cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence, and cloud technology. The initiative’s resources are being offered free of charge and include mobile apps, online assessments, an app marketplace, guides, and volunteers to support the program.

Supporting digital jobs in Africa isn’t a huge leap for IBM. The company has a business presence in 24 African countries. However, dedicating significant funds to support specific initiatives for Africa’s digital job market is a fairly new undertaking for the multinational.

In 2015, IBM launched its Africa Technical Academy and Africa University programs, which provide skills-based education in cloud technology, analytics, and big data tech to over 150 academic institutions. Last year, the company signed a memorandum of understanding with Morocco’s Ministry of National Education and Vocational Training for the Pathways in Technology Early College High School or P-TECH. The program is a global tech education model that also works with a number of start-ups in South Africa.

Given the fact that IBM is a tech-driven company and has maintained a presence in Africa for over 120 years, it’s surprising that it hasn’t jumped in to foster the growth of digital jobs across the continent until recently—especially when considering the over half-billion young people that live in Africa. Other major funders, however, have been on the case for years. Like the Rockefeller Foundation.

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Rockefeller’s Digital Jobs Africa Program aims to help unemployed young people hook up with global companies to find jobs in the information communication technology (ICT) field. ICT often refers to digital scut work like data management and low-end transcribing.

As well, the Coca-Cola Africa and MasterCard foundations have dedicated funds and energy to offering training, education, and skills-building programs in an effort to help young people around the world find jobs. A big focus for both foundations has been to help young people build the skills necessary to become leaders in the information and technology sector. A number of tech companies, like Microsoft and Oracle, are also doing some workforce-related philanthropic work in Africa. 

While IBM has been a little slow on the uptake, it’s good to see that the company is catching on to the important role young people in Africa play in transforming the current and future landscape of the technology sector.