Like the rest of the world, Africa is increasingly turning to digital media for its news, information and entertainment but the industry is facing a massive skills gap at the production level. This is holding back vast opportunities that the industry can generate. However, as Peter Burdin reports, a new training initiative could change all that.
A recent Reuters Institute report on digital news consumption in Africa revealed that social media is now the main source of news for almost half of the continent’s population under the age of 24.
Some 40% say social media is their first choice for news, with 24% opting for TV and just 4% for radio. Facebook and WhatsApp on mobile are the most popular platforms in major markets like Kenya and Nigeria and that trend appears to be increasingly typical across the continent.
It may therefore come as a surprise that, although young Africa is hooked on digital media, the continent is still facing a massive skills gap in the digital and media industries.
In reality, this gap is compounded by a lack of training opportunities, patchy infrastructure, non-existent cooperation between industry players and the academic world of media studies, and insufficient funding across the board.
I have seen this first-hand during my media career on the continent. Local talent is everywhere, but does not receive the best possible training, and does not access the jobs Africa needs in media production or broadcasting.
If left unchecked, this gap risks jeopardising the continent’s ability to create the workforce of the future and develop a truly vibrant African digital media ecosystem.
Whilst the importance of digital skills has been recognised, there has been less of a focus in emerging markets on the scale of demand for these skills, and the models required to cater to this demand for training.
As Africa Bureau Chief for the BBC, I remember meeting entry-level staff who had incredible visions of the stories they wanted to tell but lacked the technical know-how to bring them to life.
With the industry’s exponential growth in recent years, there is, more than ever, a crying need for staff that are ready to work from the get-go. Sound technicians, cameramen, producers, video editors – the creative and media industry relies on this technical knowledge to materialise ideas.
Opportunity is being held back by this lack of skills. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) at the World Bank Group recently released a new study exploring digital skills in Africa, which estimated that, by the end of this decade, some 230m African jobs will require digital skills. This points to a digital future that the continent is currently poised to struggle in.
The media and creative industries in Africa are prime examples of a sector that has undergone a tremendous digital revolution. Business models have been rocked as print continues to decline and news consumption heads rapidly into the digital space. Disinformation also changed consumption, with people returning to mainstream media seeking standards of accuracy they can trust.
We are already knee-deep in the new world and, as the IFC points out, the digital and media market will only continue to expand – the demand is there and growing, it is now time to develop the right tools for Africa to meet it.
Strategic industry investment
A new initiative could be the answer the continent is looking for – the African Media Campus Foundation is determined to help fill this skills gap. Recognising that education and vocational training remain rare due to a lack of resources, equipment, and qualified trainers, it seeks to foster the emergence of media talent by bringing the media industry closer to campus.
Industry experts are in agreement. Targeted training can stimulate job growth and further technological and economic advancement. Over time, investing in training will yield more equitable employment opportunities for African youth.
The combination of a high unemployment rate and a digital skills gap means there is a tremendous opportunity to improve the industry. However, this will only happen by encouraging a closer dialogue between academia and industry in order to accelerate collective efforts to upskill current and future employees.
Purposeful training models will give aspiring creative industry workers the skills they need. By bringing industry standards into the classroom, we give them the tools they need for success in this rapidly evolving industry.
Far from grandiose slogans, the African Media Campus Foundation’s approach is resolutely pragmatic because ultimately the African media industry’s future will hinge on technical skills.
The Foundation firmly believes that a coordinated non-profit framework can help the media industry meet its recruitment needs and support talented young professionals.
Its ambition is to bring together industry leaders to overhaul media studies in Africa. Its flagship project will be the creation of the first African Media Campus, set to open in 2024, and located at the heart of MediaCity Mauritius.
The Foundation’s aim is to promote university–industry collaboration and provide a pipeline of talent to bridge the skills gap and integrate the African media industry into the global landscape.
The prize is enormous. Digital transformation sits at the core of the African Union’s “build back better” recovery from the pandemic. It will create opportunities for increased productivity, entrepreneurship, and job creation, and help Africa fulfil its digital potential in the global marketplace.
The African Media Campus Foundation is on its way to connecting the dots and creating a space for media industry leaders and the world’s best media education providers to put theory into practice and grow the digital talent the continent so desperately needs.