IBM has announced that it will launch a cloud-based learning platform called IBM Digital Nation Africa to advance digital, cloud and cognitive IT skills to help build a 21st century workforce in Africa.

IBM will invest $70 million (approximately ZAR 945 million) into the initiative designed to provide free skills development programmes for up to 25 million African youths over five years, enabling digital competence and nurturing innovation in Africa.

“New Collar” is a term used by IBM to describe new kinds of careers that do not always require a four-year college degree but rather sought-after skills in cybersecurity, data science, artificial intelligence, cloud, and much more.

IBM Digital Nation Africa is designed to help raise digital literacy, increase the number of skilled developers able to tap into cognitive engines and enable entrepreneurs to build businesses around the new solutions.

“IBM sees effective, high quality IT education as a key driver of economic vitality in Africa. Through access to open standards, best practices, IBM tools, and course materials, the broad scope of this initiative will enable vital skills development,” said Country General Manager for IBM South Africa, Hamilton Ratshefola.

“In order to find solutions to Africa’s challenges, industries across the spectrum need to enable the existing and future workforce to perform at the forefront of technologies such as cognitive and cloud computing. This will be the key to spurring economic growth,” continued Ratshefola.

Through a free, cloud-based online learning environment delivered on the IBM Bluemix cloud platform for business, the initiative will offer a range of programmes from basic IT literacy to advanced IT skills including social engagement, digital privacy and cybersecurity.

Advanced users will be able to explore career-oriented IT topics including programming, cybersecurity, data science and agile methodologies, as well as critical thinking, innovation and entrepreneurship.

IBM’s cognitive technology, Watson, will help by reviewing the multiple interactions the education initiative will have with students, to help direct them to the right courses and help IBM refine the courses to their needs.

The initiative will be supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), which has a special focus on fostering market-driven ICT skills in Africa and the Middle East.

IBM will collaborate with UNDP on opportunities for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills delivery, certification and accreditation. UNDP will work with their network of existing government partnerships to extend the programme throughout Africa.

UNDP’s 2015 Human Development Report highlighted that technology is affecting the nature of work by introducing new ways of communicating, new products and new demands for skills. New technologies are also reinforcing and deepening previous trends in economic globalisation, bringing workers and businesses into a global network through outsourcing and global value chains.

“These processes are reshaping work and testing national and international policies. In an attempt to address this global challenge here in South Africa, as well as in other priority countries in Africa. UNDP is pleased to leverage its global presence, development knowledge, and long standing partnerships to provide context, traction and scale to this collaboration with IBM,” said UNDP Country Director in South Africa, Walid Badawi.

IBM will launch the programme from its regional offices in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt, and expand it across the continent.

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