Stakeholders say effective collaborations between the academia and industry has become an essential recipe for bridging the extant skill gap in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) industry to support Nigeria’s digital economic transformation. KUNLE AZEEZ reports
With the rapid changes in the economic landscape globally where technology has continued to play a major role, creating a big gulf between the skills set required in the labour market and what is actually taught in educational institutions, stakeholders have raised the alarm on the negative implications of this trend on the economy.
With new technological developments in the ICT space such as cloud computing, Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) without up-todate reviews of academic curricula to sufficiently offer trainings in those areas, Nigeria and other African countries may be lacking the readiness required to play in the new global economy largely being driven by ICT. As such, stakeholders from academia and industry have started initiatives aimed at strengthening the needed collaboration between the industry players and educational institutions.
Laying credence to Africa’s skills gap
The World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2017 launched a new report titled, “The Future of Jobs and skills in Africa,” which aims to serve as a practical guide for leaders from business, government, civil society and the education sector, shows that the region’s capacity to adapt to the requirements of future jobs leaves little space for complacency.
“Across the continent, a substantial potential exists for creating high-value-adding, formal-sector jobs in a number of areas. However, to realise this potential, closer dialogue between education providers and industry is needed to align and optimise the region’s demand and supply of skills,” said Nicolaas Kruger, Chief Executive Officer of MMI Holdings and Chair of the Africa Skills Initiative.
According to the report, with over 60 per cent of its population under the age of 25, sub-Saharan Africa is already the world’s youngest region and, by 2030, it will be home to more than one-quarter of the world’s under-25 population. As this young population – the best-educated and globally connected, the continent has ever had – enters the world of work, the region has a demographic opportunity, the report says, stressing, however, that the region can only leverage this opportunity by unlocking latent talent and preparing its people for the future of work.
According to the report, while a number of African economies are relatively underexposed to labour market disruptions at present, this picture is changing rapidly. This window of opportunity must be used by the region’s leaders to prepare for tomorrow.
The report, thus, urged businesses in the private sectors for strategic partnership with the government, civil society, and the education and training sectors to make quantifiable commitments to skill, upskill or reskill 1 million people by 2018 and 5 million people by 2020 in Africa, the Middle East and other regions.
Building the synergies
It is instructive that one of such efforts made in recent times to address the apparent lack of linkage between industry and academic was the academia-industry engagement/ interface seminar convened by the management of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, Osun State in collaborations with Nigerian Computer Society (NCS), among other industry bodies and stakeholders.
Speaking at the event backed by the Nigeria Computer Society (NCS) and the Computer Professionals (Registration Council of Nigeria) with the theme: ‘Rethinking Academia-Industry Engagement,’ the Vice Chancellor of OAU, Prof. Eyitope Ogunbodede, said that the gathering was converged to strengthen the school’s relationship with the industry players, primarily, for the benefits of the students towards bridging extant ICT skill gap.
The discourse, which was the first in the series of rapprochement aimed at redefining university- industry relationships, featured a showcase of the OAUICT- driven Knowledge Park (OAK-Park), Africa Centre of Excellence (ACE), aimed at bridging ICT skills in the industry.
OAK-Park to the Rescue
Explaining to the gathering comprising the adademia, industry players and representatives of various government regulatory agencies, Ogunbodede particularly explained that OAK-Park will be an ICT training hub in software engineering for Nigeria and other countries in the sub-region, while calling on industry players to partner with the Centre to produce new skills and products to support the digital transformation in the nation’s economy.
Ogunbodede added that the park will produce the next generation of scientists, researchers, teachers, entrepreneurs and product developers in the area of ICT through appropriate practice- anchored capacity building measures and enrolling new postgraduate students from Nigeria and the sub-region.
Also, Pro-chancellor of OAU, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, said that the centre is actively providing launch pad platform for new tech companies, stressing that the one-day Academia – Industry Interface Conference was the beginning of a series of engagements between OAU and its industry partners.
Already, while industry players such as Chams Plc and Sidmach Technologies Nigeria Limited, have signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the tertiary institution to invest on the ICT Park project, the Pro-chancellor reiterated the need for more ICT companies to take advantage of the OAU technology-driven park, by building capacity in park.
Potential of the Park
Also speaking at theme of the conference, President of the Nigeria Computer Society, Prof. Adesola Aderoumu, said that the park will provide the launch pad for start-up companies borne out of university research activities, and collaboration with partnering ICT companies, who will have the competitive advantage of proximity and direct access to the intellectual infrastructure and output of the university.
“The Park will also ensure systematic incubation of research ideas and products from OAU and other partner such that the creative/innovative energy of the teeming youths in Nigeria and the sub-region is harnessed into ICT entrepreneurial endeavours using appropriate skill-enhancing training and mentoring,” he said.
Aderounmu, who doubles as the ACE Co-Centre Leader, said the hub will provide excellent training for national and regional students for Masters and PhD degree programmes in ICT and related disciplines, stressing that World Bank earmarked $8 million for the setting up of the park, which is 75 per cent completed.
He also noted that the park aims to create a regionally-recognised and acknowledged model that is driven by high quality postgraduate education for uptake and commercialisation of research and technology to advance the growth of ICT industry.
Aderoumu stated that the park will ensure systematic incubation of research ideas and products from OAU and other partner such that the creative/innovative energy of the teeming youths in Nigeria and the sub-region is harnessed into ICT entrepreneurial endeavors using appropriate skill enhancing training and mentoring.
Stakeholders have said that increased collaborations are needed between the academia and businesses in order to ensure that the workforce in the country does not become irrelevant so soon in the light of the rapidly changing economic landscape driven by advancement in the digital world.
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