In its ongoing efforts to close the digital skills gap in Africa, Microsoft 4Afrika has launched its third SkillsLab in Ethiopia. Microsoft is a leading multinational corporation with a growing role within the African continent in areas of empowering young people with valuable skills and supporting startups, among others. Its market development arm, Microsoft 4Afrika – established in 2013 – recently partnered with Addis Ababa-based pan-African EdTech company, Gebya, and Ethiopia’s Technology Innovation Institute (TechIn), to launch a local (virtual) training hub to allow young people to receive innovative computer software training. Here, Amrote Abdella, Regional Director of Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on giving opportunities to young people, on finding local partnership and the vision the company has for Ethiopia. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Microsoft 4Afrika is launching a new program in partnership with Gebeya and the Ethiopian government’s TechIn institution to train young people. Tell me about that.
Amrote Abdella: The SkillsLab is an employability and capacity-building program that we have in various countries across Africa. For Ethiopia, we recently launched the SkillsLab in partnership with Gebeya and TechIn to offer young graduates or developers who graduated within the last three years, a chance to join a six-month apprenticeship where they would be trained and potentially offered uplifting opportunities at the beginning of their career. It is very much focused on building the fundamentals with some of our technologies and then more importantly, once they finish their training, to then have an opportunity to be given employment and placement opportunities once they graduate.
The partnership will give graduates a chance to work with TechIn, and the training intends to help young developers grow their skills and become competitive candidates in the job market. Compared to the other markets we have in East Africa, whether you are looking at Rwanda or whether you are looking at Kenya, we try to give equally talented and competitive young people opportunities to attain a great career in the tech field.
There are many institutions giving such opportunities in Ethiopia to young people. Why was Gebeya picked for this partnership?
The reason we chose Gebya is simple. We have developed about 20 SkillLabs across Africa. When we deploy our own training facilities, we have to make sure we partner with people who are already in the business of actually training, which is Gebeya, to us. Such partnership also gives us an opportunity to make sure we are able to reach and engage aspiring graduates who are already in the midst of their training to afford them opportunities, to be trained and be certified. As well, such partnership allows us to identify talents and see how we can help them reach their potential by giving them the tools they need to move forward.
Is this the first time such a training has been launched in Ethiopia?
The training is not unique to Ethiopia. We launched a similar training with Wollo University’s Kombolcha Institute of Technology, about two years ago. We also have a partnership with Ethiopian Airlines where we set up a development center for their technical team and work to advance their application.
This is the third such initiative in Ethiopia, as a matter of fact. We are not limiting the partnerships we develop in Ethiopia; in fact we want to see it grow. Gebya came to us and expressed an interest. But as we see the demand forward, we hope to have more partnerships in Ethiopia.
Can you tell me about the Wollo partnership in particular?
Our first SkillsLab at Wollo University’s Kombolcha Institute of Technology was launched in partnership with Tulane University Center for Global Health Equity. Here we wanted to focus on helping students develop digital skills in the healthcare sector. From this first cohort, we had 21 apprentices graduate in January 2018, and from those, 90% were able to secure jobs as programmers for the university and other major hospitals across the capital, Addis Ababa.
How are the students selected for the program?
The first step is a technical assessment. We want to look at what sort of technical background the students have in order to help us identify if they are beginners or more advanced in their skills, which will help us better understand their needs. There is also a personal interview to learn more about the candidate, to understand their motivation, and then that is followed by technical testing.
Has the program been implemented elsewhere on the continent?
Yes, we have launched similar SkillsLabs in various countries such as in Kenya, Ghana, and South Africa. This will be the 20th program launch time we are launching on the continent.
In Ethiopia, we had a meeting with the commissioner of the Jobs Creation Commission back in November, which included a delegation that came from the United States. We looked at ways on how we can work with the government and partner and invest with them to build skills in the country.
Part of our response is to look inward and understand what we know most is technology and skills building and we look at ways we can meaningfully play a role in that. The idea of partnering with people who are in the business of training is to make sure that there is down the road a skill ability model that allows them to grow as a business as well.
More importantly, it also allows us to engage with growing partners and understand the local market better.
There is an assumption that those who receive such valued training end up leaving their respective home nations. Is that true?
We find those that we train end up staying locally and look at opportunities and employment within the local market. Post COVID-19, it is a very uncertain future with some of the leading companies and where they will be headed physically. Where will they end up moving? Perhaps some might be coming to Africa.
As you look at those possibilities, there is a need to build the local skills of young people who might end up working for them. There is a second dimension as well, which is to look at the digitalization of some of the local government services and the roles some of these graduates can play in its transformation.
What is your assessment of such a skills-based training in Ethiopia?
One thing I want to say is, Ethiopia is a really large market. We have certainly been engaged in Ethiopia, but not at a level that meets the demands of the market. For example, we launched the African Development Center in Nigeria a year ago and those decisions were based on locations of talents, commercial engagement, etc. There is no reason why such opportunities cannot be afforded to Ethiopians.
In addition to the commercial engagement we have going on, we always look at ways we can invest in skills training side by side and develop local skills. Again, there is a tremendous demand in Ethiopia for such opportunities among young people.