Do digital bootcamps work in post-conflict areas? Lessons from Somalia
With 70% of its population aged under 30 and with high levels of youth unemployment, Somalia’s hopes for a better future depend on equipping these young people for the changing world of work in the digital economy.
While the country’s tech and innovation hub ecosystem is steadily growing, and while Somalia’s policymakers are keen to diversify the economy, vital skills and training capacity are lacking and digital transformation at policy level is still at a very early stage.
UNDP Somalia’s Accelerator Lab teamed up with colleagues working on Economic Development and Recovery to look into ways to boost the country’s capacity for training as rapidly as possible, including through the use of short intensive courses called ‘digital bootcamps’.
Digital bootcamps are a relatively new approach to teaching coding skills that aim to train people with limited computer skills to be competent junior web developers in space of 3 to 6 months.
First used in Silicon Valley for building a talent pool to meet the rising demand for software engineers, product specialists, and designers, coding bootcamps often apply an immersive teaching methodology to help students quickly acquire tech skills in high demand on the labour market.
In recent years these courses have proved highly successful in improving employment opportunities for graduates in Canada, the USA and the UK.
Our key focus is on how the success of this type of training might be repeated in developing countries and what kind of adaptations are needed to achieve such success.
Looking at examples of digital bootcamps worldwide, we found that what is required for bootcamps to succeed outside of the world’s main tech business hubs in developed countries is a preliminary stage of ‘demand planning’.
This crucial stage identifies which tech skills are likely to be in highest demand in the particular national or regional economy in order to ensure a relevant curriculum that closely matches the skills to be taught to market demands.
‘Demand planning’ thus primarily involves researching key job trends in order to inform the design of an optimum curriculum for digital bootcamps in specific national contexts.
Such research needs to ascertain whether tech jobs in Somalia are more likely to call for skills in coding for Android or IOS and which programming languages are most in demand. For example, our research identified Wordpress as the most widely used content management system in Somalia, meaning any curriculum for training web designers would need to take this demand into account.
In designing curricula for bootcamps, however, it should be noted there is no single solution, especially in a setting as complex and diverse as Somalia.
Differences in basic education levels alone mean that a bootcamp curriculum needs to be designed to fit different pathways from learning to employment, including different levels and types of training for mobile app developers, graphic and front end designers, data analysts and other skills identified as in demand.
Digital bootcamps across the world follow several distinct learning paths, with most typically focused on reskilling non-IT graduates.
Somalia’s Accelerator Lab has already helped to explore, test and experiment different learning paths as part of UNDP’s ‘Future Ready’ programme in Somalia.
Specifically, we introduced a six-week training to provide young people with technical and business skills. Over a thousand Somali young women and men applied for this programme, demonstrating the great interest for acquiring tech skills among the country’s youth.
Of the 168 people who have successfully completed the Future Ready course, 70% have reported that the training has helped them land full-time jobs in banks and IT companies.
Although the results of this course are promising, a key lesson learnt is that there needs to be even closer monitoring and evaluation in place to enable more informed evaluation of the medium-term and long-term success of this programme.
The most important lesson we learnt, however, is that there needs to be a close match between the skills in demand and the training to supply these skills from the very outset of such training projects.
The next step is to scale up Future Ready into a larger programme for supporting training and employment in the digital economy, including partnering with companies from the private sector to hire young graduates.
By identifying exactly which skills are in demand, we could design digital bootcamps that will train graduates in these target skills to increase their chances of being immediately matched with potential employers
Please get in touch if you want to partner with us in our efforts to prepare young Somalis for jobs of the future.