The Future of Work Needs Training
Throughout this season, we've heard about this disconnect between supply and demand in the labor marketplace. It's often a skills and training issue.
Even where there are jobs, there's still this disconnect between demand and supply. But what are we training people for when there are few jobs or income-generating opportunities?
In the past few episodes of this season, we've explored the talent networks, the remote work platforms, the workforce enablement programs, and the multi-stakeholder initiatives to attract more global roles to the African continent. All of these interventions work to better connect supply and demand in the labor marketplace, and often there is a necessary training component to these interventions to equip African talent with the skills to do the jobs in question.
Edtech and tech-enabled skilling platforms have a role to play too, considering the size and scope of the challenge at hand. So in this episode, we're going to explore these programs working to tackle this problem at scale across the continent.
6:39 - We explore the disconnect between supply and demand in the labor marketplace, and the talent deficiency, with AltSchool Africa's Adewale Yusuf.
9:19 - The business model question is important. The recruiting agency model is at odds with the scale of impact programs seek to achieve, explains Stack Shift's Chris Quintero.
10:48 - Short-form programs need to get really good at developing curriculum that's in line with the demands of the market, especially if they're charging talent directly for their service. We hear from AltSchool Africa's Carlin Henikoff.
14:18 - We explore this challenge with a focus on tertiary education, with Kibo School's Ope Bukola.
Justin Norman: Throughout the past few episodes of this season, we heard about this disconnect in the labor marketplace. We heard it from Tolu Agunbiade, the founder of Caret, a platform connecting high-growth startups to customer success talent.
Tolu Agunbiade: How do you bridge the gap between what schools teach and what the world needs? Everybody says it in some form that there are no jobs, but then employers are saying that there are not employable people out there. And I was just like, there is this disconnect.
Justin Norman: We heard it from Sharmi Surianarain, the Chief Investment Officer at Harambe Youth Employment Accelerator.
Sharmi Surianarain: We were conceived of as a way of addressing the demand-supply mismatch in the South African labor market. Many of the company CEOs and HR were struggling to fill entry-level vacancies. And it was a conundrum because South Africa did and continues to have a high unemployment rate. So it was clearly something that was off in terms of the market.
Justin Norman: We heard it from Mark Schoeman, a partner at the economic and development consulting firm Genesis Analytics, who leads their Center for Digital Excellence.
Mark Schoeman: The big constraint is on the supply side. In South Africa, for example, we think that there's about 60,000 unmet vacancies of this digital-related work, where employees are looking for candidates and they just can't find them in the market. There's a big problem in the digital skilling ecosystem, not just in South Africa, it's a really similar story in a lot of the other African countries, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, where the candidates that are coming through the supply side of the training ecosystem aren't work ready.
Justin Norman: And it's a sentiment echoed by Ope Bukola, the Co-founder and CEO of Kibo School, who are going to hear from more throughout this episode.
Ope Bukola: What we see on the continent is, one, lack of capacity and then really low quality. So for the people who do end up in our institutions, by and large, they're not learning skills that are high demand in the workforce. We see a huge underemployment challenge for African university grads. Across the continent people are coming out with STEM degrees today and they're not getting jobs, so clearly something is not working.
Justin Norman: So why is there this disconnect? There's an implicit challenge, one we've spoken about throughout the season, around the needs of the demand side of the labor marketplace. What are we training people for, especially when there are few jobs or income-generating opportunities? At the same time, and as evidenced by everyone we just heard from, even where there are jobs, there's still this disconnect between demand and supply. As we'll see throughout this episode, it's on one hand a capacity issue.
Ope Bukola: Currently, most young Africans are locked out of higher education. For example, in Nigeria, over a million students each year try to get into a federal university and are not offered admission.
Justin Norman: And this capacity issue is exacerbated in the context not only of wide public sector gaps, but also in the context of a fast-growing population where things are only going to get more challenging. But it's a quality issue as well.
Ope Bukola: So that's really what we're trying to solve. How do we create higher ed that both increases the capacity of higher ed in the continent and creates something that is higher quality and directly linked to jobs.
Justin Norman: So how do these education and skilling platforms close this gap between supply and demand? Answering this question of who pays, and how do they do it at scale?
In the past few episodes of this season, we've explored the talent networks, the remote work platforms, the workforce enablement programs, and the multi-stakeholder initiatives to attract more global roles to the African continent. All of these interventions work to better connect supply and demand in the labor marketplace and measure their success by jobs outcomes. And often there is a necessary training component to these interventions to equip African talent with the skills to do the jobs in question.
Edtech and tech-enabled skilling platforms have a role to play too, considering the size and scope of the challenge at hand. So in this episode, we're going to explore these programs working to tackle this problem at scale across the continent.
Justin Norman: Before we start, we'd like to thank MFS Africa for their sponsorship of the entirety of season four of The Flip. Back in season two of the show in August 2020, we told the story of MFS Africa's acquisition of Beyonic.
And since then, Beyonic has evolved inside of MFS Africa, so I spoke about that with Beyonic’s Head of Expansion, Ali Ouedraogo.
Ali Ouedraogo: Beyonic today is mainly focused on small businesses. Traditionally, at MFS Africa, our core offering for enterprise has been focused for large enterprises. And today clearly actually when you look at the African landscape, there is a need for us to build a solution for what we call small businesses. And of course, with the MFS Africa enterprise platform, we're able to give large businesses, the opportunity and possibility to collect and disperse using our APIs, but with small businesses, it was more like how can we make it easier for them to do exactly the same thing using less time for onboarding and so on. The focus is basically making sure that they see value in our core offering, which is domestic collection and disbursement. So what we are doing is aggregating those MNOs and giving them to small businesses in the easiest way possible, believing that, you know, MSEs and small businesses are the future of payment and collection in the African context.
Justin Norman: You’re listening to The Flip. The podcast exploring more contextually relevant stories from entrepreneurs around Africa.
Welcome back to The Flip. I'm your host, Justin Norman.
Last episode, we explored this idea of job matching, of explicitly connecting supply to demand. Training and skilling is an important part of the equation. For a platform or workforce program to be successful, the training is demand-led and specific to the open roles in question. The desired outcome and the measure of success is jobs.
Now, where training programs are less successful is when they're merely training for training's sake, without any connection to the demands of the market, as we explored last episode. But even where there is demand, there's still this disconnect between that demand and supply, as we heard about in the opener.
So in this episode, we're going to explore this disconnect a bit further. And our hypothesis is twofold. The first part is that building sustainable demand-led training programs is a particularly challenging thing to do in the African context and at scale, considering the market conditions and the business model considerations. The second part gets deeper into the market conditions, where there are huge gaps in education left by the public sector and which exacerbate the supply-side shortcomings even further. Let's start with part one.
Adewale Yusuf: We had some of the big clients that will come looking for a senior architect and some of this but we couldn't find the talent, and I realized something was missing.
Justin Norman: That's Adewale Yusuf. He's the Co-founder and CEO of TalentQL and AltSchool Africa. TalentQL is a platform vetting and connecting tech talent to demand, and AltSchool Africa is an online school for individuals looking to gain technical skills. AltSchool Africa was born out of TalentQL, when Adewale and his team saw down the road that the talent pipeline was scarce.
Adewale Yusuf: When we started, we realized if we don't do something then no one will be able to get talent from the market, you understand? You will be out of the talent. TalentQL won't be able to place talent.
Justin Norman: In other words, the talent pipeline was quickly depleted, so they built something they called Pipeline.
Adewale Yusuf: We first started something we call Pipeline. And our goal for Pipeline is people with skills in the market already with, three years’ experience working for some local company, we realized that there was a gap. Why don't we train these people? And our Pipeline was a six-month program, and we were amazed at the results we got from Pipeline, because 80 percent of these people got a job.
Justin Norman: So from training and developing a pipeline of talent for TalentQL, the recruiting business, Adewale and his team had something that was in-demand and creating meaningful results in the market.
Adewale Yusuf: Then that was why we realized let's now scale this up. And that was when we started AltSchool Africa.
Justin Norman: But what is interesting about AltSchool is its business model, back to this question of who pays. It's not a program supported by TalentQL’s recruiting business. It's actually a standalone business, an online school that talent looking to upskill pays for directly.
Adewale Yusuf: So there is a chart I use in my presentation which shows households in Africa, what they spend money on. Over 60 percent of the household spends goes into food. But the next after food, which is like 6 percent, is education, which means we care about education.
Justin Norman: So in an environment of low discretionary spending, AltSchool was built from a willingness for African households to pay for education.
Adewale Yusuf: So a lot of people focus on the 60 percent, I focus on the 6 percent. What can we do with this 6 percent? And the question we ask is what can this household pay for something that will transform their lives, their children's lives, or their family member's lives? And that was when we came with a ridiculously low pricing model.
Justin Norman: That pricing model at the moment is $30 per month, $80 per quarter, or $290 per year.
Adewale Yusuf: So we realized that we have to find a way to make this a sustainable business if we want to scale this. And also we want to make it a whole company, and now AltSchool is a major company, TalentQL is now a subsidiary.
Justin Norman: Now, I'd like to go on a bit of a digression for a moment before coming back to AltSchool because I think this business model question is an important one. How do we train talent at scale? As we heard from in episode three with Andela, global employers, and product companies in particular, want to experience talent, and when the business model is tied to talent placements, resources are then put towards the talent that is most likely to be placed.
Chris Quintero: There's inherent tension with being a recruiting agency where recruiting agencies typically price themselves by making a percent placement fee based off of someone's salary.
Justin Norman: That's Chris Quintero, the founder of Stack Shift, a talent network based in Lagos.
Chris Quintero: And so because of that, you're always incentivized to work with the most senior people and the highest paid people possible, which is kind of like directly at odds with the impact that we want to be having.
Justin Norman: And that's inherently the challenge Chris and Adewale and other edtech founders are trying to figure out in this market context.
Chris Quintero: But like I know of no other way to fund these kinds of programs because before founding this, I went and looked and spoke to maybe a hundred different edtech founders around the world who were doing different coding boot camps, and different models of tech training and no one's figuring it out… like ISAs aren't a panacea…
Justin Norman: That's income share agreements, where talent is given free training in exchange for a share of their income once they start working.
Chris Quintero: But, longer term, there are some fundamental tensions there with being a recruiting agency and trying to have an impact by working with more junior talent.
Justin Norman: And that's the bet AltSchool Africa is making, that they can work with junior talent by charging them directly, and then that talent ultimately ends up as pipeline into TalentQL. And within that, AltSchool Africa has had to get really good at developing curriculum that's in line with the demands of the market.
Carlin Henikoff: We were able to almost work backwards, down the funnel to say, if we're training entry-level talents and we can recognize for instance that it's really hard for our prospective clients to find senior software engineers who have a robust understanding of data structures and algorithms, what happens if within the first semester at AltSchool Africa, we're training people about data structures and algorithms?
Justin Norman: That's Carlin Henikoff, AltSchool Africa's Chief of Staff.
Carlin Henikoff: And so, because we have these shorter programs, we can ensure every time that we launch a new cohort, if we only have to think about what's going to be relevant six months from now, we can ensure that the skills that we're covering the projects that we're asking students to complete are going to be something that isn't out of date by the time that they graduate.
Justin Norman: Chris shared a similar sentiment.
Chris Quintero: When it comes to specifically training around job skills, I'm much more interested in figuring out how to shorten the feedback loop between what companies need and what talent has. People bemoan how outdated universities are, and it's totally true, but I also empathize with them where it's just like a really hard problem to figure out what companies will find useful.
Justin Norman: These shorter feedback loops are important not only from a program design perspective, but they're particularly important in the context of the urgency of the problems at hand. Here's Adewale.
Adewale Yusuf: But right now we just need skills. And that's exactly the problem we are trying to solve here. Let's give people skills, let's give them opportunity. I'm not fighting against the concept of the traditional institution but we need to do something urgently. We need to get people to the market, we need to give people skills, then we find a way to structure to actually take them from where they are to the next places they want to be.
Justin Norman: When we come back, we'll get into part two of our talent and training hypothesis. But before that, here's another word from our sponsor, MFS Africa.
Earlier in the show, we heard from Beyonic’s Head of Expansion Strategy, Ali Ouedraogo, about the evolution of the Beyonic platform. We also talked about what that means for the small businesses Beyonic serves.
Ali Ouedraogo: Beyonic today as we know it, which is domestic collection and disbursement, is going to evolve because we are seeing more and more that the use cases are diverse. Recently, MFS Africa acquired GTP, which is a prepaid card company and, I believe that more and more MSMEs are going to see the value, for instance, of using a virtual prepaid card for the business and for the different expenses, which I believe is going to make a big difference in the way they even approach payment. And beyond that, it's of course the cross-border payments. MFS Africa has been traditionally known as a company enabling people to transact across borders. And I think that we today actually are in position of giving small businesses that capability. If you're a small business sitting in Uganda, for instance, you want to collect money from a customer or a supplier in Rwanda or even actually pay a customer in Accra, Ghana, you should be able to do that. And I believe that, over time, those are some of the use cases that we'll be able to unlock at the Beyonic level.
Justin Norman: Part two of our hypothesis on this disconnect between supply and demand is that there are huge public sector gaps in education, which exacerbate all of these problems. In this episode's opener, we heard from Ope Bukola, the Co-founder and CEO of Kibo School. While we're going to hear from her about tertiary education, there's a big question about at what level of education the interventions need to take place considering what's happening upstream.
Ope Bukola: I think that it's also worth thinking about what happens before we get students to tertiary education. Just having that solid pipeline is so critical. One of the things that we noticed as we went through our admissions process is the desire is there, like young people really want to do it, but you also start to see the lack of preparation to actually succeed in STEM degrees. So, I'm also really excited about entrepreneurs who are thinking about how to rethink secondary education on the continent and how to really beef that up so that our talent is just like they're ready for the market, they're ready for great higher ed, they're ready for great jobs.
Justin Norman: In this episode, we chose to focus on tertiary education because it's closer to the jobs. Though perhaps the supply-side problem for employers can be traced all the way back to primary and secondary education. And while that's somewhat beyond the scope of this episode, particularly considering the role that government plays or should play in providing primary and secondary education to its constituency, it exacerbates the business model and payer question here.
At the same time, I think some of the innovations in interventions Kibo School is bringing to education, from a pedagogy and design perspective, might have more broad applicability upstream as well. In any case, this pipeline issue exists at every level of the value chain, and as we spoke about earlier, the problem Kibo School is attempting to solve is one of both capacity and quality.
Ope Bukola: Really thinking about how we build institutions because really whether or not any given piece of software is going be successful is so dependent on the institutional setup, and currently most young Africans are locked out of higher education. For example, in Nigeria, over a million students each year try to get into a federal university and are not offered admission. So higher ed is a mainstream product. It's going remain that way for a long time. But what we see on the continent, is one lack of capacity, like I just mentioned. And then really low quality, right? So for the people who do end up in our institutions, by and large, they're not learning skills that are in high demand in the workforce.
Justin Norman: On the quality side Kibo School, like AltSchool Africa and other programs, is building curriculum tied closely to the demand side of the market. But where they're going even further than online curriculum and brick-and-mortar universities is re-imagining the universe of the experience in its entirety.
Ope Bukola: That’s actually been one the really cool things about getting to design it from scratch, is we could say, okay, what do like typical, very academic computer science degrees do when it comes to theory? What do the boot camps and the sort of last-mile training do? Can we take the best of both worlds and build something that will make students really job ready?
Justin Norman: I want to take another quick digression on this question of job readiness and the role that a degree may play in the equation. Kibo School is attempting to tackle the skilling and education challenge with a three-year accredited degree, building a new online university targeting African students, starting with a bachelor's degree in computer science. Before the break, we spoke a bit about the short feedback loops of programs in developing curriculum that is in line and evolving with the talent needs of the demand side of the labor marketplace. And it's a particular challenge for universities and their multi-year degree programs to keep up with what companies need. It is perhaps for that reason that some in the tech and startup space, in particular, question the utility of a degree when short-form programs may actually do a better job of preparing talent for the workforce.
Ope Bukola: People say this to me all the time, why a degree? Two reasons. One is the demand for degrees is still really high, right? And so even though, especially for those of us who are in tech, it's very fashionable to say, “oh, nobody cares about your degree, you don't need it”, talk to families, talk to young people, they want that college degree. So I think it's important to pay attention to the market, and people know that a lot of employers still ask for it. Even the employers who don't necessarily ask for it will sometimes use it as a filtering mechanism. So we chose to go down that path one, because we know that's what people want. And then two, I think it lends really important credibility to the experience that young people are having. And if you think about people in the continent, they want to work locally. Maybe they want the opportunity to immigrate. Having something that's going be recognized not just in your country but globally is really important.
Justin Norman: Meanwhile, from a pedagogy perspective, Kibo’s focus is not just on what students learn, but how.
Ope Bukola: One marker of quality is in how you build the curriculum. And then I think the other marker of quality is I would say the pedagogy and how you deliver the learning. We need to make sure that your learning really mimics what you're doing at work, meaning lots more submitting projects, actually working with other people, like software is not built alone, it's built in teams. And ensuring that the way students learn mirrors what they'll be expected to do in professional practice.
Justin Norman: Here's what this looks like in practice.
Ope Bukola: Learning is fundamentally communal, right, and we don't learn on our own. And if we did, then like the Coursera’s and the MOOC’s of the world have solved this problem, but very, very few people, even when they pay, managed to get through those programs. So you can't have a fully self-paced, asynchronous experience. We need other people to motivate us, we need them to make it fun. So for us, it's really async first, but not async alone.
Justin Norman: So while Kibo School is an online university and that enables them to keep their cost structures down to serve more students at scale, something that we're going to talk about momentarily, their hybrid experience and creating an environment of peer interaction for students is also a crucial component.
Ope Bukola: Having those guardrails and accountability is really important for success. The way that we've admitted students, now we have these learning hubs, which are certain cities where our students have to live around. We want students to be near each other so that there can be in-person support, but we also organize, at least initially more social events, so monthly meetups, we're hoping to do some professional events where maybe they'll meet folks in the local tech community. So that in-person really matters. For CS at least it matters less for the learning part, but it does matter for all of those other things that surround it, that, again, our goal is retention and persistence and just we're physical beings, so really you have to facilitate that for sure.
Justin Norman: And Ope just mentioned events connecting students to industry. And earlier we talked about practical experience and project-based work, that's also built into the degree itself at Kibo School.
Ope Bukola: So we build in internships into the degree program, and you get credit for that, right? So students have to complete those internships to earn their degree. So it's really, really critical that, by the time you're graduating, you've already had a minimum of two like substantive, full-time work experiences.
Justin Norman: But when it comes to connecting talent to industry, it's not necessarily something Kibo School intends to do on its own. This is perhaps where the workforce programs and talent marketplaces come into play.
Ope Bukola: Getting teaching and learning right is really difficult. Getting placement right is really difficult. For us, at least in our initial three to five years, we're really focused on the teaching and learning part. Obviously, we have to talk to employers, like the internships that I mentioned have to be secured for students. We want students to be placed and we're going be doing some of that, but we're eager to do that in partnership actually. So, we're really excited in talking to some of these companies that are doing, here are pools of vetted talent, and they're spending a ton of time talking to employers. We'd be really happy to be a pipeline to them because I think at scale it is actually very difficult to educate 10,000 people a year well.
Justin Norman: Back to this question of scale. Some part of it, in the African context, is a function of price.
Ope Bukola: Cost obviously is a really critical factor for accessibility for a lot of families. The price point that we are targeting is about $2000 a year. So for the full degree, about $6000. We are trying to figure out right now how do we enable students to afford it, how do we think about payments and financing? Because most people still need to finance it. And it's not just your tuition. You need a laptop, you've gotta have data, all of that. But nevertheless, for us, the business model is having the students directly pay for it.
Justin Norman: Which is distinct from the talent placement business model we spoke about earlier, and which comes with a whole host of other incentives and considerations.
Ope Bukola: We have thought about and we've considered models around the employer, again, it starts to put you much more closely in the placement business. Whereas we would rather connect students to employers, have them earn income. We want them to get paid internships so that they can pay for their degree. But we're less interested, at least at this point, in setting up like direct placement fees to employers.
Justin Norman: The goal, again, is scale.
Ope Bukola: What we're trying to get is 100,000 students in the first decade. And I think that's very possible, and the focus is really on trying to be an institution that changes people's lives, and that's what we want at Kibo. I always say to our team, like, we want it to feel like an elite experience, but not elitist.
Justin Norman: And this might even mean working with other institutions.
Ope Bukola: There's also beyond that, right? Like how can we help existing universities scale what they're doing on the continent? How do we take our know-how, our curriculum, our technology, and enable other people to use that to scale what they're doing? Because again, if you get away from it all has to be brick and mortar and look a certain way, these institutions can build the capacity to enroll and educate a lot more people.
Justin Norman: That's it for this episode of the Flip. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be very grateful if you considered sharing with a friend or a colleague who you think may enjoy it as well. For more from the flip, you can follow us on social media @theflipafrica or subscribe to our newsletter on our website theflip.africa. Thanks as always for listening, and we'll see you next time.