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Exploring how digital platforms are helping to fill skills gaps for African youth

By 2021 almost half of the world’s youth will be in Africa. The millions of young people entering the workforce each year will join millions of others searching for better livelihoods. The unemployment challenge, exacerbated by the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, is immense.

Over the past few years, Caribou Digital has focused on how digital platforms across Africa — from e-commerce to ride-hailing — are transforming markets and creating new opportunities for the self-employed, including youth, to earn a livelihood. However, young people often lack the skills needed to access these opportunities. Last year, with support from the Mastercard Foundation, we conducted research on what we call ‘platform-led upskilling’. Although it can be difficult and expensive, we found that upskilling is an essential part of doing business for platforms, especially in regions with significant skills gaps. Because the success of platforms depends on a large force of skilled “gig-workers”, increasingly the onus is on platforms to step in and deliver training.

Max.NG drivers during a classroom training session. Learn more about their upskilling initiatives here

And platforms aren’t just teaching platform proficiency (how to use the platform); they’re teaching transferable skills — such as Uber’s financial management training — that are potentially lifelong, portable, and useful off platform. By providing this training, platforms are becoming an important part of the education landscape and helping to create human capital that can be allocated in many different contexts within an economy.

Driver-partners at the launch of the Uber and Old Mutual’s Financial Literacy Training. Source: Uber

This year, with continued support from the Mastercard Foundation, we’re exploring platform-led upskilling further, with a particular focus on building a stronger evidence base for the impact on platform workers’ livelihoods as well as the business case for platforms. We’ll be asking questions such as: Does this training lead to more work and higher platform incomes for workers? How does training impact workers’ off-platform livelihoods? What is the return on investment for platforms’ investment in training? Could efficiencies be gained by working with third-party training institutions?

We’ll do this by running a couple of demonstration projects in Kenya, Ghana, or Nigeria, in partnership with both platforms and training organizations. Last year’s research showed that platforms are seeking out third parties to reduce the training burden, and third parties are slowly starting to realize the potential of these types of partnerships. But more needs to be done both in terms of improving the quality of outsourced, third-party training options and connecting platforms with suitable providers.

Lastly we want to build a community of practice around platform-led upskilling to accelerate learning in this area, catalyze and disseminate best practices, and create new opportunities for collaboration.

We’ll do this work amid the changing dynamics brought on by COVID-19, understanding that some platform businesses have thrived during the pandemic — such as on-demand delivery — while work has fallen to close to zero on other platforms.

James a driver for Uber, Little Cab, and Bolt in Kenya has seen work almost fall to zero. Read more here

For platform businesses that have seen a significant drop in activity, we may look at how we can build financial relief into the demonstration projects. For example, we may explore a “payments for stay-at-home training” program, as discussed in a previous blog. We’re also hoping to help platforms navigate the complexities of online training. Last year’s research highlighted the prevalence and value of offline, face-to-face training across the platforms interviewed — for producers large and small, and with both high and low levels of digital aptitude. However, with social distancing measures likely to stay in place for the foreseeable future, we look forward to helping platforms successfully move this type of training online.

If you are a platform or training organization and want to get involved with the demonstration projects; if you want to share your upskilling story; if you are a donor or investor and are interested in supporting platforms that have taken upskilling to the next level; and/or if you want to keep up-to-date with this emerging research, please do get in touch.


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