The changing skills profile of the growing digital economy means that serious capacity shortages are likely in the near future. Without the skills to use ICT solutions and applications, people throughout the world will be excluded from the digital economy and the opportunities it presents for employment, empowerment and social benefit.
Reducing the e-skills gap is critical in both developed and developing nations, as much amongst the as-yet-unconnected as those starting on the 4G- and 5G-enabled road to smart societies.
Birendra Sasmal, CEO of Subah Holding Company Limited, Ghana, discussed the challenges of evolving his workforce and recruiting specific professionals in a developing market. The biggest issue is the huge gap in basic software engineering and programming expertise, he said, highlighting a common thread of the debate: the mismatch between current education curricula and the skills needed by the industries and businesses on the ground.
Such is the pace of technological development, businesses in developing market are often left running to catch up – and to keep ahead of the “constant gap”, both between the newest and fastest technologies in other parts of the world, and the lack of more basic skills in project management, coding and programming.
Subah has established its own five-year plan, with a training centre offering local graduates a comprehensive development programme including work experience and a year abroad. The investment is naturally not without risk, but as Sasmal explained, there is an important element of social responsibility and commitment to national development involved.
The company is now working with universities, schools and the government to close the skills gap through primary, secondary and tertiary curricula that may better prepare young Ghanaians for future careers in the digital economy.
Miko Nxele, Senior Human Capacity Building Officer at ITU, explained how ITU Centres of Excellence evolved as a key initiative to address skills needed by ICT professionals and executives throughout the world.
ITU is an integrator, responding to the needs of its membership, but the challenge of capacity building does not belong to one organization alone, he explained. “It is everyone’s responsibility: government, academia and citizens must work together as key stakeholders,” he said, to develop strategy and establish frameworks. The role of the private sector should also not be ignored – why should market-driven digital skills programmes not be part of the mix?
Leah Akingeneye, winner of the Miss Geek Rwanda competition to inspire girls to use technology, innovation and innovative thinking to solve problems, spoke of the enormous opportunities available to those with digital skills in Africa, saying that “good technology digital skills are skills for life.”
Whether we have the right skills to take advantage of smart digital transformation or not depends on the varying states of digital preparation in different global, regional or national regions, says Danil Kerimi, Director, Information and Communication Technology Industries, World Economic Forum.
Government certainly has a big role to play in developing digital skills, he said, but “I think citizens need to drive this and recognize what skills they need and how to get them. Then they can make education providers accountable” and make change happen to close the gap between supply and demand on the labour market.
Ozzeir Khan, Chief, Business Relationship Management, UN, spoke on the need to develop innovation labs and new technology to support SMEs around the world as a key driver of growth in the digital economy.