The fourth industrial revolution is here with us and we must all be prepared to embrace it. One of its key requirements is digital skills that opens the door to participate and take advantage of this advanced technological era. The world is witnessing the fastest industrial revolution since the first revolution, thanks to the rapid technological advancement particularly in the 21st century. Artificial Intelligence (AI), Robotics, Software Engineering, Internet of Things (IoT), Virtual Reality (VR) and a host of new and emerging technologies are shaping our world and how we conduct our businesses.
Another very important technological invention in the 20th century is the Internet. It is a connecting infrastructure on which most of these emerging technologies ride and has also been going through transformation with the introduction of Smart phones and other smart devices connected via broadband internet service. The real game changer is the much talked about 5G technology which promises high download and upload speed. It is expected that the high speed being offered by 5G will power driverless cars (autonomous vehicles) and big data processing for industries that would help in automation.
Conversations about these advanced technologies are fascinating but there is a huge skills gap globally when it comes to commercial deployment of some of these new technologies. Technology companies are constantly in search of people with expertise to innovate, develop and improve their products and services in their quest to commercialize some of these new technologies. According to a recent report by business insider, organizations such as Google, Apple and Netflix don’t require university degrees to hire engineers into their companies, all in an attempt to remove barriers that would prevent them from getting highly skilled individuals with the required digital skills.
Apart from high demand of experts with the technical know-how to develop these technologies, there is also a big gap in the digital skills required for users or consumers of these products and services. Technology is not useful if the intended market does not know how to apply it. This shortfall in digital skills is inhibiting the rapid deployment of technology for accelerated development according to a recent survey by International Finance Corporation (IFC) on sub-Saharan Africa. The report indicated that there is a limited access to digital talent although demand in digital skills is expected. Which means if there is no corresponding growth in digital skills workforce, Africa’s economies will weaken in the face of global push for digitization.
The government of Ghana (GoG) has been making effort in its digitization drive with initiatives such as; the launch of the National Property Addressing System to provide digital addresses for parcels of land and properties in the entire country, the implementation of the paperless system at the shipping harbor to improve efficiency, the implementation of the E-Justice system and the E-procurement all attest to the fact that GoG is committed to transforming the economy from an agrarian to a knowledge-based technologically driven one for rapid development. Communication sector has also been diversified which allows private sector participation and investment. There are at least five (5) privately owned fiber optics submarine cables terminating at the shores of Ghana which provides internet and connects Ghana to the rest of the world. There are multinational telecommunication and internet service providers such as MTN, Vodafone, AirtelTigo, Busy etc. providing fixed/mobile telephony and internet services to consumers across the country with mobile phone penetration above 100% according to the National Communications Authority (NCA).
Despite the infrastructure deployment by both GoG and private sector investments, the digital skills gap is still a major concern to employers. According to IFC 2019 report; “Nearly 20 percent of Ghanaian companies surveyed recruit only internationally for digital skills, largely because they cannot find skilled local talent”. The report noted that people in Ghana and other sub-Saharan African countries would require digital skills training to bridge the demand-supply gap and ensure employers can hire locally, find suitable training for employees, and help workers keep pace with new technology in their industries.
There are three (3) major areas of Digital Skills acquisition programs that would help people to participate and benefit from the technologically advanced world and find decent jobs. They are; Basic Digital Skills, Intermediate Digital Skills and Advanced Digital Skills. The basic digital skill is required by everyone to be able to access and use all the services and digital devices available. This includes the ability to use the internet to search for information, operate your phone and use online portals and applications. Intermediate Digital Skills are generally considered the soft skills for employment which includes; ability to use office tools such as Microsoft word, excel, PowerPoint, emails etc. In addition, ability to use the internet for research and all other basic digital skills. Although most graduates include these computer skills in their resume while applying for jobs, most employers complain that even graduates struggle with intermediate digital skills which slows down their productivity. Advanced digital skills category is the skill required for specialists in ICT and it is considered their core occupation. For the advanced digital skills, the individual must be given specialized training with practical experience in a particular domain or field of ICT. Some of the domains are software engineering, cyber security, web development, big data analytics, cloud computing, and search engine optimization etc.
There are available jobs especially for the intermediate and advanced digital skills, however they require hands on experience to be eligible. The youth in particular should embrace Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) as most digital skills jobs are based on these foundational knowledge areas.
David Gowu, Executive Director (Institute of ICT Professionals Ghana)