IFC Report Finds US$130bn opportunity in digital skills across sub-Saharan Africa

Demand for digital skills in Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to grow at a faster rate than in other markets, according to a new report released by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) in cooperation with L.E.K. Consulting.

The report estimates that 230 million jobs in sub-Saharan Africa will require digital skills by 2030, presenting investors and education operators with an estimated US$130billion opportunity to train the future workforce in digital skills. IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank Group, launched the report, ‘Digital Skills in Sub-Saharan Africa: Spotlight on Ghana’, at the group’s office in Accra, Ghana. Nearly US$4billion of the opportunity in digital skills will be in Ghana.

The report sheds light on the crucial need for digital skills as a driver of economic growth and competitiveness across sectors in the region—from agriculture to services. The demand for digital skills is evolving and presents opportunities for different stakeholders to play a role, particularly the private sector.

The report finds that the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’—an era characterised by rapid breakthroughs in technology-related fields—is reshaping the skills that will be required for the future workforce. The study finds that digital skills are critical for the future of work, alongside ‘21st century’ social and behavioural skills like critical thinking and communication.

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Respondents to a digital skills survey estimate that about half of jobs on the continent require some digital skills, and note that demand for these skills will rise more quickly in Africa than in other regions. This demand is driven both by rapid economic growth in Africa—home to three of the world’s top-five fastest-growing economies—as well as the digitisation and automation of its agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors.

Although digital skills are perceived among the top seven skills for the future of the global workforce, the study finds that these skills are undersupplied globally and most particularly in Africa.The study finds that supply of digitally-skilled labour in sub-Saharan Africa and Ghana must increase to meet anticipated market needs or Africa’s economies will falter. Around 80 percent of industry participants interviewed believe that an undersupply in digital skills would hamper expected economic growth – and nearly 20 percent of Ghanaian companies surveyed recruit only internationally for digital skills, largely because they cannot find skilled local talent.

Sérgio Pimenta, IFC Vice-President for Middle East and Africa, says: “It is clear that approaches to learning need to be reconsidered. One area that has not been fully explored—particularly in emerging markets—are the digital skills that will enable people to work and live well in an era of rapid technological change”.

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Ashwin Assomull, a Partner in L.E.K.’s Global Education practice says: “The report demonstrates innovative ways for private education providers and investors to tap into the massive training opportunity over the next decade. A relentless focus on student outcomes and technology industry alignment is critical to the success of these programmes”.

The study concludes with a call to action: the private sector must play a pivotal role in addressing the challenges in digital skills. This challenge can be met through proven models with potential to scale and offer lessons to other innovative providers willing to make inroads in the space.

Digital skills must also be integrated throughout education, including at a foundational level in schools, with the public sector playing a pivotal role. Teaching digital skills is not only a business opportunity but also a chance to reconceive the future of work across the continent.

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