February 1, 2023

Degrees not enough to equip youths in 4IR – Pantami


…Challenges Africa to prioritise digital skills, flexible regulation

By Emmanuel Elebeke

The minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Ali Pantami has called for inclusion of digital skills in the school curriculum of African undergraduate students.

He said the inclusion of digital skills training became necessary because degrees were no longer enough to equip the youths for the task ahead of them in labour market.

The minister made the call on Tuesday at the first West Africa Digital Economy Conference themed: Positioning West Africa Digital Economy for the Future, organised by the ministry in Abuja.

He said countries that prioritised the 4th Industrial Revolution like US, Japan Germany, China and India, which are the largest economies in the world have grown their economies through the adoption of digital economy and for Africa to compete globally, the continent must brace up with the challenge of adopting digital skills in the training of youth people to prepare them for new tasks at wor  place.

‘‘There is a serious mismatch between the quality of certificate from our institutions and output at work place. The focus is not about certificate but ability to do the job. It is not about employment, the most serious challenge is unemployability of the youth because of that mismatch, when those employed cannot do the job.

‘’If you look at it today in the world, we need a minimum of 8.1m world class cyber security experts, not everybody is needed. What we have today is only 4.7m, so by implication we have  another 3.4 vacancies.

‘’Degrees are not enough to equip the youth, they must be supported with digital skills to be able to compete globally. It is because of this mismatch that we came up with this initiative of building a Digital and Innovation Centre in all states of the federation to compliment the degrees.

‘‘In this 4th Industrial revolution, degrees are not only needed but skills to compliment them. Degrees must be supported with relevant skills,  either soft skills or hard skills.  It is only innovation that is the way to go.  In addition to that about, 15 digital innovation centres have been built across the states. For this, government is building World class digital and innovation centre in FCT  in addition to National Centre for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence’’.

He called on Africacountries to  prioritise flexible regulation that would attract investors and empower youth and women with digital skills that would make them job creaters rather than job seekers.

The minister also challenged African leaders to collaborate in the area of skill development. If this is done, he said citizens will not complain of unemployment.

‘‘African countries have series of regulations. My focus is to make them realise that regulation should be about flexibility, they must learn to  amend their laws within 24 hours when the need arises they must try to change the perception  of restricting investors but rather support development. Also prioritise long term benefit rather than short term benefit.

‘‘Again Africa must collaborate in the area of skill development. If this is done, citizens will not complain of unemployment. Certification should validate skills, if they don’t they have lost their essence. Focus should no longer be on certificates but prioritise skills, and that skill should not be inter-mediary but long lasting skills that will enable them create jobs.

‘‘I encourage African countries to come up with laws that will support young innovators to be job providers rather than job seekers. This is the way I feel Africa can come together to identify our talents, identify our young  innovators, give them support they need to be able to make us proud.

‘‘Let us prioritise manufacturing what we consume and not what we import. There is no developed nation in the world that relied on what others produced but it produced’’

‘’‘Our population is very important but we must take the advantage and the age advantage by being very proactive in adopting emerging technologies. Today, Africa has over 430 million unemployed youths, some underemployable and others unemployable. From this population, only one third of that population is underemployed, and by implication, only 140 million of that number is underemployed and remaining are unemployable.

‘‘Unemployment is a time bomb in Africa. We must leverage our population and age advantage to achieve the much desired growth and development.’’

On effort in empower youth/women, he said, ‘’we have many programmes to support women ICT. From committees, boards and managerial positions, women are well represented. Over 600 citizens so far have been trained on digital skills. Our target is to train 1m software developers.’’

Speaking on his performance on broadband/internet penetration, the minister said,  ‘‘prio to taking over as minister in 2019, the annual broadband  penetration was  less than 2 to 3 % but from 2019 to 2020 it was  increased broadband penetration by  more than 8% in one year.

Other initiatives taken to ensure broadband penetration increased was to address the issue of Right of Way, we engaged state governors who cooperated with us and reduced cost to laying Optic Fibre to N145 per linear metre and some free. This action led to reduction in cost of production in the sector.

‘‘Another major challenge was vandalisation of telecom infrastructure. Within one year, 113 cases were reported in one year, after looking into it the cases have been brought down by 80%, after engaging  the minister of works and housing.’’

‘‘Today, we provide satellite Broadband services, first in Africa. This provides services in any part of Nigeria to compliment efforts of Network Service Providers, who provides fibre optics.

‘‘The whole country is now covered with broadband services, either through fibre optics or satellite broadband, there is no part of Nigeria that is not covered with broadband penetration’’.

Other initiative by the administration, according to him,  is building 33 ICT Backbone infrastructure. The Federal government is providing optic fibre into each state of the federation and as at today, 33 have been completed and by March this year, the 36 states and FCT will be covered.

On data Protection, Pantami said, ‘’Data protection is not optional but our fundamental rights. It is the duty of government to ensure protection of data of citizens unless a crime is committed, security agencies are empowered to go into private data as long as prima-fase’ is established.

The new Data Protection Bill will give incentive to investors and will help create awareness among citizens on how to secure their data’’.