Should African Tech Companies Stop Caring About College Degrees?

By  |  May 2, 2020

Go through school, study well, get that degree, land a great job and attend to business—an age-old maxim which many wonder whether or not has merit. Be that as it may, the need for knowledge, experience and order keeps university classrooms filled, even too much for such citadels’ own good.

The sector has received a significant shockwave from the part of Apple, Google and IBM and others. These big tech companies have been upfront about not caring for 4-year degrees. While this development is both good news and bad, it begs the question: has talent become so independent of education?

Addressing The Matter

There are about 14 big tech companies who do not mind if you didn’t go to school to employ them. To some people, that effectively means college degrees are a waste of time if you want to work for them. But again, there are some sets who question the very nature of this new arrangement.

As the basic level and to a reasonable extent, BSc in Chemistry may be useless if you want to become a developer. It’s the same way studying History may not do you much good for a Product Manager. Judging from the pace of change and the low quality of education in some parts of the world, the topic is garnering a lot of steam.

The pace of change plays a big role to play. If one graduates from a Computer Science Department today, most of the things one’s curriculum emphasized would be obsolete in the next decade. According to a Dell prediction, 85 percent of the jobs that will characterize the 2030 workforce do not yet exist.

So, if Dineo from Botswana takes up a course in the University of Ghana today, the jobs that will be available when she graduates in four years will be fresh from the grapevine. No clue? The University of Ghana is not the only academic citadel struggling to keep up with that rate of change.

As a matter of fact, a disturbing majority of universities do not stand a chance to adjust to the change. Skyrocketing tuition fees in an effort to offset future losses is a sign that universities realize they cannot keep up. If there’s anything certain about colleges, it’s that they are slow to change. They might notice a problem, but take years – even decades – to fix it.

Truth said, tech companies are the drivers of this shift to a more talent-oriented world. Research and development departments are stepping on the gas when it comes to pivoting and innovation. While they border on the cutting edge, most universities are not.

Before universities are able to wake up to the reality of this and redress the balance, they are out of time again. The time it takes to update syllabi is eons compared to the rate at which online learning and e-courses are taking over – and employers are on the lookout out for world-class and cutting-edge.

Case in point, 2 people apply for a developer job at Google; one studied Computer Science, the other has several specialist online coding course certs under his belt. With experience in Java, JS, React, Python, Node, etc, the second candidate obviously stands a better chance, even if the former’s CV is decorated with first-class honours.

The Talent Rise In Africa

source: African Leadership Academy

Along with the fast growth of technology in Africa, tech talent is at its peak. Per a 2019 GitHub report, Africa has the highest number of developers in the world. Titled State of the Octoverse, the study says developers from the continent created 40 percent more open source repositories on the software engineering marketplace over the past year.

Globally, this is the highest growth percent noticed. This achievement is somewhat indebted to the growth and proliferation of tech hubs in Africa, where there’s over 100 of them. Some African countries have developed the wildest-growing economies in the world, and the IMF pins this rise to Sub-Saharan Africa. The enhanced economic management and increased production of goods/services go alongside the expansion of the middle class.

In a dialogue with McKinsey, founder of the African Leadership Academy and the African Leadership Network, Fred Swaniker, said that there is an abundant source of talent in Africa. He’s not wrong. Africa boasts of a competitive advantage as the region with most of the world’s youngest people.

This trend is forecast to become even more pronounced in the coming decades. Presently, 60 percent of the continent’s population is under the age of 35. The average age of an African is 19.5, compared to 46 or 47 in Germany and Japan. By 2040, half of the youngest people in the world will live in the continent,  possibly making the demographic group the most tech-savvy ever.

Swaniker says young people are hungry, willing to learn and in need of an opportunity. The next generation of the digital workforce, no doubt will come from Africa. If Twitter offered Dara Oladosu, founder of Twitter bot Quoted Replies a job, then anything is possible. Being at the forefront of change and development will enable the youth to emerge at the forefront.

To put things into perspective, organizations such as the African Leadership Academy are producing graduates with what it takes to come with their counterparts from Stanford, Harvard and Yale. The university costs less than USD 2 K a year to attend, but their graduates are being hired by Facebook, Google, Goldman Sachs and McKinsey.

The rise of talent in Africa is also being brought on by the increase in the number of fellowship and mentorship programs. A good number of these initiatives are tailored to encourage tech-savviness and mould talents into elite innovation and tech experts. Some of such platforms provide an environment for people to train under renowned pros and tech lords.

Others, furthermore, like Andela, can link with leading global tech companies for internships, possibly, job opportunities. The governments are also playing their parts by building infrastructure supporting technology and adopting more in service delivery and governance. Development partners, on the other hand, like the World Bank, are funding and policing to support the growth of the same sector.

The Problem

Despite the fact that the rare in slow, African businesses have begun channelling their focus on recruitment, development and retaining skilled, talented local employees. They do so to match their business cultures and champion their successes.

Being that they now understand the merits of skill retention and talent development, firms have pulled resources to be able to make giant leaps towards fully realizing improved returns due to proper talent management.

However, some management strategies have failed. Some other companies do not even have concrete talent management strategies in place. In a future closer than we think, quality talent management practices will play a critical role in helping African businesses succeed.

Because looking for the right set of talent is often a gruelling rite of passage for most African companies, they mostly have to have at ut multiple times before getting it right.

Along came the we-don’t-need-college-degrees move pulled by big tech companies, bringing about a crack on the HR system of the continent. Most businesses are keen on adopting global practices and staying standard, which is why the question: Should we consider talent without college degrees? pops up.

According to what Stanley Ikechukwu, Team Lead, Primary Data, SBM Intelligence, told WeeTracker, university degrees are good but at the same time overrated because there is no tie-in between success at university and achievement later in life. Most tech firms seem to be toeing that line in that skills should be more valued than degrees; if you got both, wonderful.

“In other words, if you can do the work, you can get hired. Increasingly, companies don’t care where you got your skills from. It could be at an institute of higher learning or by on-the-job training, in as much as you can get the job done. In Nigeria, the industry is moving in this direction, albeit slowly.

I know people who studied Economics, Journalism, Business Development, Law and other non-related programming/tech development courses in school but are currently writing codes and doing well in the tech industry. Almost all of these people had a passion and learnt the skills to excel in tech and went on to build on it outside their course of study.

This means that many startups in the country are beginning to ask for skills rather than qualifications. I think we are moving to that level where we will drop college degrees as key criteria to get jobs in the tech industry because there are lots of talent out there without degrees but understand the job well enough to earn a job in tech firms,” Stanley added.

According to the Economist, Middle Eastern and African tertiary institutions admit too many students than they can handle. This creates a rip in the education system, where some students spend 4 years on a course without having a full grasp of what they are learning.

A 2017 report by Statistics South Africa revealed that university graduation numbers are on the rise. The study reveals that of the 9,75,837 total students enrolled in higher education institutions in 2016, 72 percent of them – were black Africans, while 6 per cent were coloured and 5 percent Indian.

Degrees Or No Degrees?

Oluyomi Ojo, founder and CEO of digital printing platform Printivo, told WeeTracker on the matter, that he strongly believes that tertiary education is key to being able to deliver on the job. “University system teaches people to start and complete tasks.

That said, not having one should not be a barrier for great talents finding opportunities. Many Nigerian startups have people on the design/tech teams who never stepped through the day of a college and these targets are delivering value. We are approaching a future where an organisation will drop certificates as a prerequisite for employment, that future is not far from now,” Oluyomi finished.

The founder’s position corroborates what Entrepreneur says in this article, informing that education serves as a foundation. Agreeably, the graduates of today are enjoying what is the best job market ever. Should they be able to combine their education with new-age skills, they stand better chances for quality employment.

Well, unemployment is a tight-faced problem in Africa already. Looking beyond the shores of education might be the answer.

Oluyomi’s stance on the relevance of completing tasks as taught by universities is similar to the same publication’s stance on the matter – assignments develop workplace skills.

Even though the present office arrangement seems like interdimensional travel from what today’s lecture hall offers, academic assignments help young people tap into and develop the skills they need to succeed in the workplace.

Stanley says that academic qualifications should still be taken into account and as part of the assessing process for a candidate as a whole, but should no longer act as a stumbling block in securing that job when one is most qualified for.

“Tech companies should look out for talents with an ability to code but beyond that Bock says “For every job, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not IQ.

It is the learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. Tech companies should look out for skills and talents.

They should look at portfolios and projects carried out by these no degree-holding talents. They should look out for the ability to understand basic and technical program languages and the ability for on-time delivery”.

Many of Africa’s youth are currently working in capacities starkly different from what they studied in school. This is the case with Obayuwana Confidence, a second-class graduate of English Language and Literature from the University of Benin.

Now a graphics designer and co-founder of PrimeX Branding, a Nigerian branding and advertising solutions firm, Confidence understands the entailments of working in a line very much outside your university degree. In his opinion, the informal education sector in Africa is not as developed as that which exists in developed countries.

“While we encourage judging potential employees by talent rather college degrees, it is important to note the colleges still serve as the point where many students are first exposed to and develop an interest in the tech industry.

And, having no informal education structures, colleges give candidates analytical and problem-solving skills. Having college degrees is important but not necessarily on the same field in which you have proven to be competent in,” he told WeeTracker in a conversation.

Talent is abundant in Africa, but some may still need the four walls of a university to hone their skills and be able to fit into workplaces. But it is also a given that a lot of highly-skilled people do not do well with academics —or choose not to.

A trend has been noticed, where many people who feel they are skilled enough to land a job in the market advertently and inadvertently drop out of school. It could be due to lack of finances, but, mostly, it is a result of the belief that college degrees no longer matter. But, in Africa, they still do. They should.

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