If there is one thing that the pandemic has shown the world, it is that employment is undergoing a rapid change and that there is a need to adjust accordingly to this future that is nigh. The migration of jobs from traditional realms onto digital platforms has placed digital expertise as an essential skill set for this changing world. 

With companies fervently looking for highly skilled labour in the digital and technology space, Upskill is leveraging data about the industry’s most in-demand skills to create learning programs that boost the performance of individuals and companies interested in new skills. 

Upskill, a venture of The Innovation Village, is an enterprise and skilling academy for individuals seeking to get skilled and reskilled in the most demanded skills by the current market. These efforts are a contribution towards the alleviation of unemployment by the government of Uganda. 

A high unemployment rate among skilled Ugandan youth persists. National Planning Authority statistics indicate that about 700,000 graduates enter the job market every year but 90,000 of those get formal jobs. This translates to 87 per cent of graduates ready to work but cannot find a job.

One of the major causes of unemployment is the mismatch between qualifications and the skills required by the labour market.  This mismatch is reflected in the National Labour Force Survey 2016/2017 where 48 percent of youth were under-educated for the jobs in the market and only 42 percent had matching education and job requirements.

Government has done its fair share of tackling this huge problem. Among these initiatives is the Youth Livelihood Program which was launched in 2013. The program intends to empower the most vulnerable and unemployed youth by providing them with skills development, livelihood and institutional support.

The private sector has also dipped its money into similar initiatives to reverse the trend. With Upskill, The Innovation Village is on a path towards bridging the glaring gap that has left many young qualified men and women roaming in the streets in search of the next shilling. 

A poster child of the Ugandan employment landscape is 26-year- old Timothy Musika, a Quantity Surveying graduate. After a few years of gig work in digital marketing, he feels this could be a viable career path as he waits for vacancies to open up in Quantitative Surveying. 

When asked why he signed up for the digital marketing classes under Upskill, Musika says, “I was working in a digital marketing role and I felt that I needed to have some basic knowlegde in it. A workplace can be limiting in terms of what you do and learn.” 

After a period of four weeks on the course, Musika now leaves Upskill with an understanding of how digital algorithms work and a linkage to a job opportunity. 

“I have undergone the interview processes of a job opportunity and I believe, having this certified digital marketing skill is one of the reasons that I was selected to move forward,” he says. 

Upskill began its work with cohorts of enthusiastic Ugandan youths attending classes on digital marketing. In the first three months of 2020, Upskill trained 333 youth. The pandemic hit and the classes continued online via zoom because their demand never ceased.

Post lockdown, there has been a loss of jobs and a migration of many businesses onto digital platforms has led to a spike in the number of youths who need various skills to help their businesses survive or find new jobs.

One of Upskills’ recent graduates is a 30-year-old young woman who has been surviving on her business, Beauty Essentials. Diana Namuddu says Upskill not only perked her interest in digital technology but it has also revamped the way she operates her two-year-old business. She provides mobile massages, makeup, facial treatments and waxing. 

“I am mindful of the content I post and target my audience. It has helped me find my niche,” Namuddu says.

With 1271 youth skilled to date, Upskill expanded its classes to include basic business development, entrepreneurship, accounting, finance and coding skills for students on vacation. To ensure that the skilled youth are linked, the venture is using its platform to illuminate the new skilled youth and pitch them to companies where they will earn permanent placements. 

Commenting on what the future holds for Upskill, Aaron Musoke, the Senior Associate Special Projects  says, “In the works is a cadet program that will be a game-changer for employers and job seekers.” 

This will be launched In the near future where fellows between 18 and 30 will be trained in soft skills in a five-day bootcamp and then linked to job opportunities. The onboarding process of fellows will simultaneously take place with the onboarding of employers ready to take on fellows.

With these efforts in place and support from the ecosystem, the skills gap will become narrower as Upskill leads youth into the uncharted waters of the changing demands of the labour market.

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