There is glimmer of hope for the many unemployed ICT graduates after Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) together with Microsoft on Thursday launched the AppFactory programme to train graduates on industry relevant skills, giving them a better shot at employability and entrepreneurship.
The AppFactory programme is a brainchild of the global technology giant Microsoft which is dispensed through Microsoft 4Africa initiative which equips ICT graduates with hands on software development experience, helping them to gain critical skills to secure jobs or start their own businesses.
Laurence Janssens, Microsoft Southern Africa country manager, said the programme is basically about bridging the skills gap by bringing real life projects that graduates can work on. She said besides the technical skills graduates pick up, they will also learn soft skills such as project management, design thinking and implementation.
Janssens also made a convincing case for effectiveness of the AppFactory, drawing data from the already existing 17 AppFactory academies spread across Africa including Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Mauritius, Malawi and Ethiopia. AppFactory’s recruits spend up to six months working with experienced software engineers to solve some of the most complex problems through real world projects. To date, the academies have successfully trained 1,400 graduates.
“The statistics we are most proud about is 85 percent of the AppFactory graduates find employability within three months after graduating from the programme,” she said.
The AppFactory uses a franchise model, allowing for more rapid expansion and widespread reach. Implementing partners host the AppFactory and run the training, while Microsoft provides the relevant support, platforms and tools to successfully run the programme. In Botswana, the first AppFactory in the country is hosted by BIH, bringing the total AppFactory academies in Africa to 18.
Janssens told Sunday Standard that they have a long standing history with BIH, adding that they are very excited about the vision that BIH has about building a coalition of innovation in the country by creating an ecosystem between academics, businesses, innovators, young graduates, and “basically bringing everybody together to ignite innovation.”
The Microsoft chief for the Southern Africa region said their support to BIH’s latest venture, and to any other AppFactory, goes into two main areas. “One is the technology itself, giving them access to our tools and technology for the graduates during the programme,” Janssens said.
“The second aspect is the skills of which we will bring to BIH to train their trainers, giving them exposure to the latest technology and how to deploy these technologies to projects they will be working on,” she added.
Alan Boshwaen, BIH’s chief executive officer, echoed similar sentiments as the Microsoft team, acknowledging that they have previously worked together in some projects. He said that he had always known in his mind that there will come a time when BIH is ready to go big and amplify the work they have been doing, adding that Microsoft has been taking notice of their efforts.
“In a nutshell, we are very excited about this concept of how do we continue to contribute to a digital Botswana,” said Boshwaen during the launch. “In order to do this, we need to create powerful partnerships through collaborations that can assist us.”
Boshwaen said the country has many ICT graduates, of which some of them are skilled developers and innovators, thus brightening up Botswana’s prospects in digitization and job creation.
“We want to make this our signature project as BIH because we feel it can really ignite job creation and move us further down the value chain of technology adoption and adaptation, making a difference in all sectors of our national economy,” he said.
Amrote Abdella, regional director of Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative, thanked BIH during the launch for driving the collaboration to where it is today. “We have been exceptionally pleased with the support we received from BIH, more importantly from our developments and engagements,” she said.
Abdella further said their first project with BIH was centred around connectivity, looking at how they can push for connectivity in more areas and how to utilise the technologies they have to drive coverage and impact they wanted.“Today we find ourselves talking about skills which I think is very much close here to all our hearts,” she said.
At the core of the AppFactory, Abdella says lies pressing questions such as “how do we actually drive relevant skills so that we prepare young graduates coming out of university to be able to compete. Moreover, how do you have real hands on projects that allow you to understand what the opportunities are and what challenges are so that by the time you finish the training then you can know for a fact that you have the experience gained though the hands-on training but also the opportunity to lend a meaningful job, ” she said.