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African Universities failing to prepare tech graduates for AI job opportunities ─Report

African Tech Graduates on Digital Innovation Training Photo: Open African Innovation Research

*Over 100 African Universities offer courses related to Artificial Intelligence, including Data Science and Machine Learning, but recruitment consultants and academics have observed that graduates from these courses are largely unemployable because the ‘programmes are not up-to-date with the industry’s requirements.’ Dozens of new AI training startups are filling the gap, offering online courses, hackathons, and job placement help, says a report

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

Over 100 African Universities offer Artificial Intelligence (AI) courses. Recruiters say their curriculums are outdated and graduates of these courses are largely unemployable.

Some startups in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa are providing hands-on training in new technologies, and have helped thousands of young Africans to find jobs, Rest of World report has said.

Association of African Universities Headquarters, in Accra, Ghana

The recent report related how after she graduated with a Computer Science degree from a state university, in Nigeria, in 2023, Oyinda Olatunji was confident she would land a job with a local data science company by March.

She had been through four rounds of interviews and thought the company would soon make her an offer. The company, however, decided to go with another candidate who had experience working on Artificial Intelligence.

Olatunji had studied topics, such as Data Science and Machine Learning (ML) in college, but the course did not include any practical, real-world examples of how AI works.

“A data mining course that I did at university was all theory and I just don’t have the right skills that recruitment companies look for. As a result, job hunting has grown increasingly difficult,” Olatunji noted.

The 23-year-old said she has missed out on several other job opportunities due to a lack of practical experience in new technologies.

Several other African tech graduates have faced similar challenges. Over 100 African universities offer courses related to AI, including Data Science and Machine Learning.

But recruitment consultants and academics told the publication, that graduates from these courses are largely unemployable because the programmes are not up-to-date with the industry’s requirements.

Startups are giving African tech graduates practical experience in AI

Several startups have stepped up to bridge this gap. They give young African tech graduates practical experience in AI by organising projects and competitions where they can win cash prizes, report stated.

These companies, including Zindi in South Africa, DSNai and ChipLab in Nigeria, and ALX in Kenya, have helped thousands of graduates to secure jobs.

“Africa’s higher learning institutions have struggled to design curricula that align with the ever-evolving technology landscape, making it difficult for graduates to have the right AI skills.

“Private AI startups have emerged to assist graduates in acquiring relevant, practical, tailor-made AI skills and are collaborating with companies to provide internships. Those with such skills have huge success [in the job market],” Abdul Moosa, Chief Technology Officer at cybersecurity firm Cyberport Africa, said.

In the first two months of 2024, over 100,000 students enrolled in programmes by ALX, a Kenya-based e-learning platform that offers courses related to Data Science and Software Engineering.

The company, founded in 2015, started offering AI courses in 2018. Nearly 85% of South African students who took ALX’s courses have found relevant jobs, Bavesh Sooka, the company’s General Manager in South Africa, stated.

Zindi, a 6-year-old company, has seen nearly 73,000 data scientists use its platform, where it hosts hackathons and boot camps to train graduates and match them with potential employers, CEO Celina Lee said.

The company is backed by investors like AI firm InstaDeep and investment firm Founders Factory Africa — it has helped over 100 engineers to find jobs with Microsoft, Google and Meta.

Lee said: “We came up with a model to challenge the notion that data-related solutions could only be found outside of Africa.

“The idea was to develop African talent so that the continent could solve data-related problems without having to look outside of Africa for solutions.”

Lawrence Moruye, who has a degree in Mathematical Sciences from Senegal, signed up for Zindi, in September 2018. He wanted to learn programming skills that his school did not teach. Participating in hackathons on Zindi helped him get there, according to report.

“The hackathons on Zindi taught me how to apply theory to solving real data-related problems and to find solutions — something that we never learned at varsity,” Moruye stated.

His experience earned him scholarships from Meta and Google to pursue a Master’s degree in Machine Learning. He now works as a data scientist at African e-commerce major Jumia.

“Africa is not prepared to reach its full AI potential because we do not have enough talent.”

The training provided by startups like Zindi is critical at a time when several African countries are dealing with high levels of unemployment, according to Abdul-Khaaliq Mohammed, an engineering professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, in South Africa.

Mohammed opined: “Even after finishing a data science degree, graduates are finding that they are not experts in machine learning and AI, and for this, they require training and upskilling.

“New players in AI and Machine Learning education are quicker to respond to the new trends, and by upskilling graduates, they increase their chances of being employed in the face of an unemployment crisis.”

African Governments need to find a solution to ‘acute shortage of AI-related talent’, says OAU Professor of Engineering

There is an acute shortage of AI-related talent in Africa, and governments across the continent need to step in to find a solution, according to Pipeloluwa Olayiwola, an engineering professor at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, in Nigeria.

“Africa is not prepared to reach its full AI potential because we do not have enough talent,” Olayiwola said.

The few startups available may not have what it takes to train enough professionals, he said.

He asserted: “The best way is for African governments to invest in university AI programmes. This, coupled with private startups, will help build an adequate number of AI professionals.”

ConsumerConnect reports the Association of African Universities (AAU) is a university association of African universities based in Accra, Ghana.

With member institutions all around Africa, AAU provides a forum for cooperation and exchange of information on higher education and research policies, stated the Association.

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