For most jobs in the 21st century, the requirement for computer and internet skills is no longer questionable.
In a region where millions of people join the labour market every year as per National Planning Authority, regardless of their qualifications, anyone can claim to have digital skills.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest challenges East African companies find with recruits is “straight jacket qualifications.”
“Somebody has a first class degree in accounting but he does not know how to convert his numbers into a usable platform for the rest of the organisation because the curriculum is structured in a way that they are not exposed to digital skills.
The real task for employees in the digital age is figuring out how they can convert numbers into a presentation or use well formatted spreadsheets to communicate.
Micheal Niyitegeka, the Uganda manager ICDL Africa, describes East Africa’s workplace digital skills as “here and there” yet the expectations are becoming more complex.
“There is a lifestyle approach where one is able to get their computer started, save documents, access Microsoft Word and make a presentation. We have everybody in that category and they are pretty comfortable,” he says.
In Europe where assessments of digital skills have been done, according to Niyitegeka, 69 per cent rated themselves as very good but results showed that only 31 per cent qualified.
“It is an indication that the situation could be slightly different or even grave here,” he says.
Another survey conducted among top tier recruiters in an East African bank, which Niyitegeka does not reveal, showed that 40 per cent had competence in digital skills.
Experts in East African countries are now questioning the measure of who is computer literate or not in a labour market already contending with a digital skills gap.
Currently, East Africa lacks a structured yardstick for assessing one’s competence in digital skills and experts say the process used today is subjective.
“It has elements of bias. Some organisations will say come and make a presentation.
This may not necessarily bring out some of these skills so we want to address this early enough,” Ngolobe says.
HR experts warn of a looming loss of talent if employees and employers do not move into the digital space.
“People have redefined the concept of work, so work is no longer you signing in at 8am and leaving at 5pm. Work is now being able to deliver and integrate the concept of work in the digital space. People are on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn so we have to integrate work expectations in that space,” Ngolobe says.
HR practitioners believe that being able to build skills from a platform of certification could work for the market.
And in that regard, Human Resource Managers’ Association of Uganda is taking up a partnership with ICDL Africa to make sure that they improve digital skills for both those working and jobseekers.
Going forward, ICT experts expect organisations to require potential and existing employees to have accreditation in digital skills as an added advantage even if they (organisations) do not have training budgets.
ICDL Africa partners with accredited training centres in Uganda to award certificates.
Uganda currently has only seven Information Communication Technology training centres while countries such as Kenya have more than 80.
The plan is to grow Uganda’s to 20 in the next five years so that the tests are easily accessed.
Once in force, Human Resource Managers’ Association of Uganda expects costs on training budgets for organisations to lower because then existing employees will receive relevant computer skills.