Talent is being developed, now to keep it from leaving

One of the core missions of a university is to produce graduates who can join the workforce and develop solutions for the exigent demands of society and the economy. However, this can be a problem when graduates’ skills don’t align with what is needed in a 21st-century workplace.

Collaborations between technology giants and universities in Nigeria have been addressing this problem. For example, in May 2019, when Microsoft launched its first Africa Development Centre (ADC) in Lagos, Nigeria, and Nairobi, Kenya, the technology giant said its desire was to produce exceptional engineering talent across Africa that would build innovative solutions for global impact.

To achieve that goal, Microsoft said it would invest US$100 million over the first five years of operation and partner with local universities to build a talent pipeline.

The company said graduates would have access to the ADC’s hardware and software tools to build relevant and meaningful careers in data science, artificial intelligence (AI), mixed reality, application development and other 21st-century skills.

“It’s an opportunity to engage further with partners, academia, governments and developers – driving an impact in sectors important to the continent, such as fintech, agritech and offgrid energy,” Phil Spencer, executive sponsor of the ADC and executive vice president of Microsoft, said at the ADC launch, according to the company’s statement.

Three years later, Ola Williams, Microsoft’s country manager for Nigeria and Ghana, said at the launch of new office space in Lagos that more than 370,000 graduates from top Nigerian and other African universities have since been upskilled to build solutions tailored for African societies.

She said many universities have also been connected to the internet, according to a report by tech-focused online newspaper Technext.

Garba Saad, a professor of education (curriculum studies) at Bayero University, Kano, says partnerships between Big Tech and universities usually involve revamping school curriculums.

“The collaborations are laudable in the sense that these tech companies know what skills are in vogue, so they can always recommend them to the universities. Through this, graduates are equipped with the right skills to develop solutions to societal problems. It is a positive move that aids development because capacity aids productivity,” Saad told University World News.

Big technology giants, including Google and Meta (previously Facebook), also have similar collaborations with Nigerian universities – all with the ultimate aim of boosting local tech talent to create solutions to African problems.

For instance, Google has partnered with Nigerian universities such as Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijagun, Ogun State in south-western Nigeria; Pan Atlantic University in Lagos; and the American University of Nigeria, Yola, Adamawa State, in north-eastern Nigeria.

Similarly, Meta, still Facebook at the time, launched an initiative dubbed FbStart Accelerator in Nigeria in 2018. Aimed at empowering start-ups and student teams to build solutions for the future using AI, data science, the Internet of Things, or IoT, augmented reality, or AR, and virtual reality or VR, the programme also provides equity-free funding and support to innovative start-ups and student teams.

At the launch of the initiative four years ago, the Facebook team visited 13 universities across Nigeria with the purpose of raising awareness of the programme among students.

The universities visited include the University of Lagos, the University of Port Harcourt, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, the University of Ibadan, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology and Obafemi Awolowo University.

As of today, the accelerator programme has birthed 15 teams and more than 30 founders who have raised over US$400,000 in grants and investments, according to information on the initiative’s dedicated website.

‘Big Tech collaborations can address the funding gap’

Collaborations with Big Tech go a long way in addressing the challenge of poor funding of universities, according to Oludele Awodele, a professor of computer science and artificial intelligence at the School of Computing and Engineering Sciences, Babcock University, Ogun State, in south-western Nigeria.

“I would say the partnerships go a long way in, not just assisting the universities to build talent, but they also help to address the problem of [poor] government funding of public universities. The initiatives would reduce the financial pressure on the universities,” Awodele told University World News.

“The programmes also lead to the students’ acquisition of tech skills, which are essential to building the future economy of Nigeria and Africa. Technology is the new oil, and we need more tech companies to establish more of such partnerships,” he added.

Retaining talent

While the Big Tech-universities collaborations are important for the growth of Nigeria, there are fears in some quarters that, after money is pumped into the projects and students and graduates have been equipped with tech skills, they may leave the country for places where they perceive they would have better prospects.

In a recent report titled, ‘Nigeria can’t support its tech talent. Now they are leaving’, TechCabal, a technology-focused publication, reported that several Nigerian tech workers are leaving the shores of the African country for better opportunities in North American and European countries.

According to the report, interest in the Nigerian tech economy has increased over the years and more investors are willing to invest in start-ups that are based in the country and that serve its population.

In the same vein, global firms are looking at the country’s growing tech industry to fill their talent gaps. Consequently, the country’s tech ecosystem has found itself groaning as the talent that is supposed to support this growing ecosystem is bleeding out.

To prevent the brain-drain phenomenon, Awodele urged the Nigerian government to make the country liveable.

“Keeping talent is actually an issue. The government needs to address the problems of insecurity, skyrocketing inflation, poor infrastructure and unemployment. An average Nigerian professional wants to live in a Nigeria that works.

“But the state of things keeps driving them away to other countries. If the challenges are addressed, our tech talent will stay to apply their skills to build a better society,” he said.

Adewale Yusuf, the co-founder and chief executive officer of AltSchool Africa, an online course platform, believes there will be an unlimited supply of talent in the nearest future, hence he is not bothered about talent migration.

“Not everyone will leave Nigeria. Then, when you have a continent with over 1.4 billion people, and over 60% [of the people are] under the age of 25, migration shouldn’t be our worry,” Yusuf told University World News. “When you have excess [talent] supply and there is enough infrastructure to support them, many African problems will be solved.

“We need to fix many challenges. Broadband connection is getting better, but it’s still expensive. The government needs to step in and fix the electricity problem, [then] we will see an increase in productivity,” he added.