Innovations in Platform-Led Upskilling: Soronko Academy
From Computer Skills to Soft Skills — How this Academy is Teaching Marketable and Transferable Skills to Help Women Find Fulfilling Work
Soronko Academy is a coding and human-centered design academy in Ghana that aims to develop digital natives by providing coding courses. Its goal is to pioneer the way for young people — especially women and girls — to be equipped with the technical and soft skills they need to realize their economic potential, engage in dignified and fulfilling jobs, and overcome the gender gaps in the technology sector. The organization also aims to cultivate the next generation of female innovators who will leverage their critical thinking skills and entrepreneurial spirit to create solutions that address their community’s most pressing problems.
Through public and private partnerships with ten external partners, over 10,000 women and girls have gone through Soronko Academy’s program. When it comes to digital training, the organization has been intentional about understanding the skills needed for the market and building products to bridge the skill gaps.
From Coding to Soft Skills Training
With the support of the Mastercard Foundation, Soronko Academy developed a Skills Assessment Tool and Online Learning Portal. It helps people assess their digital and workplace-readiness skills to help identify competencies and areas for continued growth, and become familiar with digital skills that are in demand. The platform provides people with training and helps them connect with jobs once they have completed courses, which include sponsored and paid classes, as well as free sessions. These courses cover the following areas:
Basic computer skills, such as interfacing with a laptop, email, and Microsoft Word.
Intermediate skills, such as Microsoft Excel and digital marketing (Soronko Academy has seen an increase in demand for digital marketing as a skill.)
Advanced skills, such as CSS, PHP, Python, and Full Stack Web Development.
Although Soronko Academy started out with a focus on technical skills, it has recognized that its graduates would not be successful without basic communication and other soft skills. Thus, it added public speaking, negotiating, leadership, and other soft skills to its course offerings.
“We would connect beneficiaries with job opportunities but realized that there was no uptake. When we asked the graduates for their CVs and engaged with them, we realized that the soft skills of the graduates, especially during interviews and panel interviews, were lacking.” -Regina Honu, Soronko Academy CEO
Heightened Importance of Digital Skills Since COVID-19
“[COVID] impacted us positively, in the sense that we had to evolve our program, which enabled us to reach more people and increase our beneficiaries. COVID allowed people to see that digital is no longer a nice-to-have but an essential.” -Regina Honu, Soronko Academy CEO
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Soronko Academy has noticed an increase in interest for their programs. It received over 2,000 applications per program announcement in the months after the pandemic, compared with 190 applications pre-COVID-19. It seems that people have used the downtime at home as an opportunity to gain new skills.
With the increase in demand, Soronko Academy acquired more laptops to cater to more students. It had to observe safety precautions in providing courses during the pandemic, for example, by fumigating the work space, offering training on COVID-19 prevention to students, and contact tracing. The organization also put together micro-versions of some of the training for dissemination through WhatsApp, to address limitations associated with reduced movement during the lockdown.
One of the challenges faced by Soronko Academy has been finding effective trainers. Initially, the organization engaged trainers with Computer Science degrees but found that these graduates struggled to teach basic computer skills. It is crucial for trainers to be able to give relevant examples, engage in action learning, and address students with different levels of knowledge.
Soronko Academy used to provide free online content but found that students were more likely to complete a course if they have a trainer to engage with and who can provide accountability. In addition, the courses have a system for reminders. Students can also earn certifications, issued at the end of the course, which turned out to be a critical motivator.
Another challenge has been around students’ access to data and laptops. For these students, Soronko Academy plans to continue to host face-to-face engagements.
How Soronko Academy Measures Success
To measure the success of its programs, Soronko Academy calls students three months after program completion and asks a set of questions, such as whether or not they have found a job or started a business. The organization also tries to measure the domino effect: Is there a positive impact on students’ communities after a student completes the program? Do students decide to invest in continued education? These things could indicate a wider impact of the program beyond the taught skills.
Aiming to Connect 10,000 Women with Work in 2021 by Focusing on Post-Training Engagement
Soronko Academy has set an ambitious target to connect 10,000 women and girls with dignified and fulfilling work in 2021. It will continue to run a blended model of online and offline classes to achieve this aim. The organization will also scale their program to six new regions in 2021 through partnerships with ecosystem hubs.
Soronko Academy has increased the number of programs available to train around 50 women daily. There has also been an increased focus on post-training opportunities, ensuring that students connect with jobs, internship opportunities, or opportunities to start or grow their tech-enabled businesses. To further empower the graduates, the organization is working on an online network that will have a jobs board; provide training on CV writing and interview skills; connect the women to funding opportunities, mentorship engagement, and career guidance; and provide mental health support. A Soronko Alumni Network will also be a part of this online network.
Providing Real-World Work Experience with Business Solution Center Run by Graduates
Soronko Academy has established a center that offers bespoke services to businesses in web design and development, social media management, branding, printing, and photocopying. Women trained at Soronko Academy run the center and trainees get a paid internship for three months.
The center allows the women to practice the technical skills they learned and further build important soft skills such as negotiating, pricing, meeting customer deadlines, innovating service provision, and providing customer service. After their internship, trainees will be ready to transition to full-time roles at other organizations or start their own tech-enabled businesses. The profits from the business solution center will be reinvested into Soronko Academy to train more women and girls.
How Soronko Academy Can Support Platforms with Upskilling
Although Soronko Academy is not actively partnered with any digital platforms, it is providing skills that help equip the next generation with digitally native consumers as well as entrepreneurs and developers who can create platforms of the future. Additionally, it may be a good fit for platforms to take advantage of the many programs that Soronko Academy is offering online and offline, to offer to people using their sites to generate sales or find work.
The role of third-party training organizations in platform-led upskilling is still evolving and may hold much promise; involving them may help make training much more efficient overall. It avoids the duplication of training content creation and delivery by each individual platform, and reduces the training burden for platforms to enable them to focus on delivering their core offering.
We, at the Mastercard Foundation Learning Partnership, are keen to see how this evolves. We will be actively supporting some projects introducing partnerships between third parties and platforms around training efforts, and we look forward to sharing the results.