IICD’s focus on employment is rooted in our earlier work in the education and economic development sectors. Since the early days of IICD, we observed that the acquisition of ICT skills often translate into increased opportunities to earn income, find employment, and advance careers. For example, in the education sector, applying ICT helped prepare students to successfully enter into the workforce and enable the continuous professional development necessary for people to stay relevant and competitive on the labour market.
Next to our skills building components in ICT programmes for primary and secondary education, a new focus arose on exploring the transformative effect that ICT skills stood to have on those outside of formal education, working to make a living, and to the students of technical vocational training programmes (TVETs). Small-scale manufacturers, tailors, mechanics, and carpenters participating in IICD’s programmes in Ghana, Zambia, Kenya and Bolivia used their ICT skills to increase their productivity, expand their product diversity, and better reach out to and connect with existing and new customers. Frequent uses included using office productivity software for better planning and administering of their work, or locating clothing patterns and designs on the internet for tailors to enhance and expand their product portfolio.
Our work on increasing employment and income generating opportunities was designed and implemented in collaboration with schools, technical and vocational training institutes, producer and trader cooperatives, (youth) entrepreneurship centres, as well as local NGOs working on economic development and improving employment prospects for local populations.
ICT has played a double role in such programmes. First, it attracted people to participate in employment-related programmes such as TVETs and skills-building related youth centres. A variety of young people, including school dropouts and youth at-risk, felt enticed to join the vocational training offerings only after these programmes allowed them the possibility of interacting with computers, mobile phone-based services, and the internet.
One much cited example of this attraction function of ICTs is the increased popularity of the Zambian Chawama Youth Centre’s skills training centre after installing a small internet cafe on their premises. This internet cafe was soon co-opted by at-risk youth to record their raps and cut their own CDs, inspired by the rise in popularity of locally produced Zambian music. Recognising the attracting power of such simple digital recording equipment, the Chawama Youth Centre built a more sophisticated on-site digital recording studio, and urged the youths flocking to the centre to enroll in the vocational skills training offerings as well.
In many of IICD’s Employment-related skills training programmes, the Internet and tools like MS Word, data processing software, or graphic design programmes were used to build skills supportive of the participants’ current and desired employment. IICD’s initial focus was on enhancing professionals’ digital skills to use tools to further enhance their existing trades (e.g. teachers, nurses, agricultural extension workers, small-scale entrepreneurs, etc.), but over time also included building professional ICT skills for individuals to take up jobs as ICT administrators at schools, health facilities, or farmers associations and the organisations that serve them.
In 2012, IICD started to support projects which more purposefully built market-relevant digital skills among youth, and supported them in building group enterprises around providing digital services and finding technology-related jobs. Youth participated in practical training programmes, acquiring skills in website development, software tailoring, hardware maintenance, and computer networking which reflected the needs of the local market. Taking job preparation for digital jobs a step further, IICD reinforced groups of training graduates with business development support to secure work assignments, as well as find internships and jobs.
In Ghana, this work led to the launching of TizaaWorks in 2015, a national online platform for youth employability and employment. In partnership with Microsoft, this platform offers Ghanaian youth access to career advice, online training and resources, job listings and more in support of their professional development.