By training one million young Africans with digital skills in the next year, Google GOOGL +0.56% is hoping to grow the continent’s digital economy and change the nature of its media and advertising industries.
With 500m internet users expected to be online in Africa by 2020, according to Google, the Digify program will run in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya – where youth unemployment stands at 35%, 13% and 17% respectively, it says.
“The initiative is really designed to introduce a million young sub-Saharan Africans to digital skills,” Google South Africa country director Luke McKend told me. Google plans to upskill 300,000 South Africans, 400,000 Nigerians and 200,000 Kenyans; as well as a further 100,000 from the rest of the region.
Having partnered with youth agency Livity Africa, Digify has two components. The first, called Digify Bytes, is a free online learning platform which Google has built that allows people to “absorb this content in short bite-size chunks at their own pace, in their own time”. It has already trained 11,000 people in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya.
The second is a three-month face-to-face training course called Digify Pro, and the first 200 graduates have all found employment, McKend says.
He says those graduates are equipped with enough skills to get a job in digital marketing and have digital skills that they can use immediately. “The feedback I am getting from agency heads is that the Digify graduates are fantastic assets to their business, in some case even more so than the marketing graduates that they get,” says McKend.
Equally importantly, he believes the program can transform the digital media landscape, especially in South Africa. “Digify is only program specifically designed to change the demographic shape of the South African advertising industry,” he says.
“If you think about the future of media and advertising in five to 10 years, the critical thing is that the industry remains relevant. The shape of the industry has to change or it is not going to be relevant. We won’t be able to deliver great work to our customer and clients; we won’t speak to our customers effectively. If we can’t do that, we’re wasting everyone’s time.”
He adds: “Digify has the potential to change the way the industry looks. That will be a wonderfully satisfying win for us to say we were a part of it.”
Citing research commissioned by Google in South Africa and performed by researchersWorld Wide Worx, McKend says “small businesses with websites are more profitable than those that don’t and small businesses that have a digital presence employ more people. So if you can increase the digital skill sets in small businesses in Africa, and they are employing more people, the knock-on effect in Africa is phenomenal. That’s what we are aiming to do by providing these digital skills.”