Africa should think big on digital development. At the current, incremental pace of economic and social advancement, according to the world bank, too many of Africa’s expanding youth population will be denied the opportunity to live up to their potential. Digital technologies offer a chance to disrupt this path–unlocking new pathways for rapid economic growth, innovation, job creation, and access to services that would have been unimaginable only a decade ago. Yet there is also a growing ‘digital divide’, and increased cyber risks, which need urgent and coordinated action to mitigate.
An effective digital transformation strategy is a catalyst for business growth and allows organizations to make most of the cutting-edge technological innovations. With technology disrupting most traditional business models, organizations need to invest more than ever to stay relevant in a fiercely competitive market. Also, there is the need to put people at the center of the digital future by equipping them with foundational skills in literacy and numeracy, digital and “soft” skills such as communication, management, analytical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Lack of such relevant skills in the digital age can limit opportunities for many African countries to make the most of digital technologies and catch up. Individuals have the chance to tap into the many areas in the digital space and must position themselves in order not to be denied the opportunity to live to expectation.
The inability of the formal sector employment to keep pace with population growth is forcing most of the youth into the growing informal economy-safeguarding employment and income, thus allowing young people to enter the labour market. Digital technologies, however, have diverse effects on the work of those in the informal economy. Technology-based innovation processes in the informal economy can enhance productivity and the working conditions of those who work in the informal economy. However, it can also mean new dependencies and discrimination. Digitalization requires those who work in the informal economy to have new skills–digital skills but also basic literacy.
For instance, capturing data makes it easy for End Users to digitize content. Data capture, or electronic data capture, is the process of extracting information from a document and converting it into data readable by a computer. Data capturing can also refer to collecting relevant information, whether sourced from paper or electronic documents. It is important for businesses in the informal sector to learn to digitally capture and route information, in simple and effective ways, integrating with desktop scanners, multi-function devices, mobile devices, email, and existing business applications. Learning to trade online, creating digital signatures, emails, and accounts, accessing digital and payment platforms, etc., should not be the preserve for the formal sector only. The informal economy needs much introduction and training in relevant skills to elevate and catch up to the time. For example, only a few citizens have digital IDs or transaction accounts–locking them out of access to critical digital services and e-commerce.
For many youths, marginalized sections of society, and adult learners, access to digital and soft skills training can be expanded through non-formal technical and vocational education and training provided by government institutions outside the formal education system, non-governmental organizations, and civil society, international organizations, and the private sector. This requires adequate funding to relevant and flexible courses that are aligned with employers’ or industry needs, as well as continuous professional development for trainers and resources.
As Ghana progresses with its digitization agenda, policy interventions are needed and should be prioritized to increase female access to and enrolment in formal and informal technical and vocational education and training, as well as developing gender-sensitive, employer-led training models. Policies should also be directed at prerequisites that are required to prevent the digital divide from becoming wider and to ensure that disadvantaged groups also benefit from the digital transformation. These policies must strengthen innovation and knowledge systems through domestic markets. This can help businesses develop marketing strategies, move into more sophisticated products, boost technology uptake, and increase implementation and innovation. This also promotes strategies to nurture and support skills upgrading, employment initiatives, and developing the infrastructure for training programs in digital skills. Certainly, this can also boost Ghana’s readiness to leverage cross-border trade opportunities.
Educational and research institutions, training providers, and businesses need to promote digital skills development and upgrading. Industry associations, research and development organizations, makerspaces, hubs, and technology parks must collaborate to scale up digital skills development and training in Africa, centered on the future of the workforce, and in areas such as robotics, Internet of things, artificial intelligence, digital design and fabrication, 3D printing, cybersecurity, cryptography.
Public-private collaborations can support hubs and makerspaces that are integrated and linked with the rest of the domestic economy, driving innovation and skills development in all fields, including construction, health, agriculture, transportation, waste management, education, etc.
Africa can harness the digital economy as a driver of growth and innovation, but if it fails to bridge the digital divide, its economies risk isolation and stagnation. If industries in emerging economies and developing countries grow because of new technologies, this may increase the number of formal jobs and cause a corresponding reduction in informality. It is therefore important for developing economies to take deliberate steps to invest in digital skills development and transformation.
Author: Richard Kafui Amanfu – (Director of Operations, Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana)
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