Bridging the AI Skills Gap in Africa

By Zafir Junaid

In the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution [4IR] powered by Artificial Intelligence [AI], Africa is poised to play a pivotal role in shaping the future. With its unique challenges and untapped potential, the continent must bridge the AI skills gap to foster an inclusive and sustainable digital ecosystem that propels Africa forward.

Back in 2017, the World Economic Forum predicted that nearly half of all jobs in Africa could be automated with existing technology. However, the McKinsey Global Institute provided a different perspective, stating that AI and automation adoption could create more than twice the number of new jobs by 2030. This paints a picture of immense opportunity, but it also highlights the pressing need to bridge the skills gap in order to harness these opportunities effectively.

Zafir Junaid, Regional Director for Middle East and Africa Growth Markets at SAS

AI as a Catalyst for Growth

AI presents Africa with a powerful tool to leapfrog development stages and address age-old challenges. The key lies in building human capacity and fostering an environment that promotes digital innovation. This necessitates an investment not only in AI itself but also in the individuals who will drive its implementation—truly the backbone of any digital transformation journey.

At SAS, we firmly believe that data is the secret source for harnessing the power of AI. However, data alone holds little value without analytics. Africa’s digital economy, or iGDP, has the potential to account for up to 10% of the total GDP, while significantly advancing economic and social development. Therefore, data and analytics present a golden opportunity to leverage AI and drive sustainable economic growth across the continent.

Addressing Persistent Challenges

While the potential of AI in Africa is vast, we must not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead. These challenges encompass infrastructural and connectivity gaps, as well as an overwhelmed education system struggling to keep pace with rapid technological advancements. Addressing these challenges requires a collaborative approach involving governments, academia, the private sector, and global technology players like SAS.

Education stands as a critical starting point. Updated and flexible curricula that align with global advancements in AI are needed. Programs should be introduced to make AI and data analytics exciting and accessible to students from a young age. Academic institutions must collaborate with governments and private sector organizations across the continent. This approach, championed by SAS, has been successful globally, with over 3,000 education customers in 56 countries benefiting from harnessing data and analytics to anticipate future trends.

Another crucial element is bridging the digital divide. Africa faces a pronounced digital divide, often further exacerbated by a gender divide. SAS is committed to fostering gender equality in the industry and empowering women and girls with digital skills. Digital fluency is the key to unlocking job opportunities in the digital economy. Therefore, equal access to digital resources and training is non-negotiable.

Government Influence and Private Sector Involvement

Reliable access to high-speed connectivity serves as the foundation for Africa’s digital transformation. Non-urban and remote communities require this connectivity to bridge the gap with metropolitan areas that already have widespread wireless and fiber access. Policies must be implemented to create an enabling environment that harnesses technology to tackle social problems. Only then can an innovation-driven environment be fostered.

Private sector involvement is imperative as well. More companies need to integrate AI into their operations while investing in upskilling their workforce. As AI becomes more mainstream, the demand for skilled professionals will surge. Organizations must recognize this trend and take proactive steps to build their AI talent pipeline.

At SAS, we are dedicated to harnessing the potential of AI to create sustainable social and economic value. We have witnessed the transformative power of AI and remain committed to collaborating with stakeholders across Africa to bridge the AI skills gap. Initiatives such as the Girls’ Education and Climate Challenges Index and the Teachers4Data Analytics program are just a couple of examples

The author is the Director for Middle East and Africa Growth Markets at SAS

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