Innovations in Platform-Led Upskilling: eMobilis
By Grace Natabaalo and Edna Karijo
eMobilis empowers young Kenyans with digital skills
eMobilis, a technology training institution and incubation hub in Kenya, is on a mission to create opportunities for African youth, preparing them for the future of work through marketable, industry-driven skills.
While originally set up to provide technology training for the telecom sector — as network engineers and mobile app developers, for example — eMobilis has diversified over the years to include digital skills training.
This move was made possible through industry partnerships, most notably with Google through Google Digital Skills for Africa and recently with Ajira Digital, an initiative of Kenya’s ICT, Innovation, and Youth Affairs ministry, with funding from the Mastercard Foundation.
Both partnerships are trying to solve some of the biggest challenges in Kenya — youth unemployment and low digital literacy— by arming young people and small businesses with the skills they need to take advantage of the benefits of the digital economy, in particular, the freelancing industry.
In a conversation with Caribou Digital, eMobilis’s Digital Skills Program Manager Edna Karijo shared that the partnerships have been valuable in providing free training to young Kenyan job seekers, especially those who cannot afford to pay for comparable classes, or live outside cities and urban areas.
“Our goal at eMobilis is to ensure that talented youth are trained to meet the growing opportunities and needs of the ICT industry and are able to create livelihoods from digital and digitally-enabled work,” Karijo said.
The Google Partnership
In 2016, eMobilis was selected as a Partner for Google’s initiative launched the same year — the Google Digital Skills for Africa Program — which aims to empower millions of young Africans with digital skills.
eMobilis’s role is to deliver the digital marketing training component of the Google program to young job seekers and small- and medium-sized businesses in Kenya. The Google Digital Skills Program also has an online portal with a wider range of free learning content to help grow small businesses and jumpstart careers.
The online content comprises 26 modules, including building and marketing one’s online presence, creating an online business strategy, marketing on social media, content marketing, search engine optimization, and more. Those who complete the 40-hour online course get a Certificate in Digital Marketing from Google.
“To date, eMobilis has trained over 300,000 Kenyans on Google Digital Skills through face to face sessions conducted by our 30+ digital trainers based in different communities across the country. Of the training participants, 46 percent are female and 54 percent are male,” Karijo said.
A screenshot from the Google Digital Skills for Africa website
Karijo said the program has been beneficial not only to job seekers but also to entrepreneurs who are either transitioning to set up digital agencies or want to upskill themselves by learning digital marketing.
To reach more people, eMobilis collaborates with youth organizations who mobilize participants from all corners of the country. In addition, eMobilis also works in conjunction with national government programs such as the National Youth Service, Uwezo Fund, and the Presidential Digital Talent Programme. Universities and Technical and Vocational Education and Training institutes (TVETs) across the country are also part of the partnership, providing the much-needed infrastructure for the program such as the computer labs where trainers and trainees have access to computers and an internet connection to access the course content.
Before COVID-19, the eMobilis training included a half-day, face-to-face session before the participants completed the rest of the course online. Due to the pandemic, all classes have since moved online and are now being conducted via the Google Digital Skills Portal and YouTube. However, this model presented challenges as many youth didn’t have access to computers or a reliable Internet connection after the institutions that provided these closed in March because of COVID. This led to the reduction in the number of young people taking the classes.
To keep those who could get online motivated, trainers kept in touch with the trainees through WhatsApp groups, helping them complete the online portal certification.
The Ajira Partnership
The Partnership between eMobilis, Ajira Digital, and the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) aims to prepare 1 million Kenyan youth to earn a decent wage from digital and digitally-enabled jobs in the freelancing economy through training and demand linkages.
Launched in 2016, the Ajira Digital Program seeks to position Kenya as a choice labor destination for multinational companies as well as encourage local companies and the public sector to create digital work.
eMobilis is the principal government partner tasked with operationalizing 106 existing Ajira Youth Empowerment Centers, as well as institutionalizing Ajira Digital clubs and curriculum at selected higher-level learning institutions (universities and TVETS).
The Ajira training curriculum covers five job categories including data entry, content writing and translation, transcription, digital marketing, and virtual assistance.
“We take them through opening online work accounts on platforms like Upwork, QA World, Fiverr, Lynk, Range, and Jumia. We are packaging them to succeed as gig workers. We also take them through soft skills, entrepreneurship, and bidding, all of which are work readiness skills,” Karijo shared.
However, because of COVID-19, the centers had to be closed in March and all classes shifted online- on Zoom. Some of the centers, Karijo says, were reopened later in October and trainees are able to take the Zoom classes there.
Ajira students receive training at an Ajira Center in Nairobi, pre-COVID-19. Source: Caribou Digital
The first Ajira virtual training was piloted in June 2000 with 4,000 trainees, mostly aged 18-25 and also interns at the Public Service Commission. The training was facilitated by 51 Ajira trainers from across the country. Karijo says that some working Kenyans have also taken an interest in the Ajira program because they want to take their skills online.
After the training, the participants go through a one-month virtual mentorship journey during which they hone their new skills through practical tasks. This mentorship, done in groups, is conducted via Google Classroom and WhatsApp groups.
“If you are trained on transcription, we give you practical work, assignments, and tasks for you to do before you become confident to go online on your own and offer the services. We hope they will be able to get decent work after the mentorship,” Karijo explained.
Recently, Eliud Gachugu, the head of the Ajira program, revealed that in the last three months, about 18,000 young Kenyans have accessed digital jobs through 19 local and international partners.
“The trend is set to increase going forward as we aim to get one million Kenyans to access online freelance jobs,” Gachugu told Capital FM.
Karijo said that a lack of foundational computer skills is a barrier for many, especially those who come from rural areas or from schools where computer classes aren’t offered. Other barriers include a lack of personal devices and a stable internet connection.
Some center managers, Karijo shared, have taken the personal initiative during their free time to provide basic computer skills. Most of the time, however, anyone who comes without the foundational skills is referred to a computer college or TVET where they can get them.
Karijo expressed hopes that the Kenyan government’s ongoing efforts with the digital literacy program in primary and secondary schools will, in time, provide the digital foundation that many need to be at a level where they can ably benefit from both the Google Digital Skills for Africa and Ajira Digital programs.
“Amidst COVID-19, digital skills initiatives have become even more relevant, with the benefits increasingly becoming evident. Without a doubt [they] have great potential in engaging young people in meaningful digital work,” Karijo said.