ILO-UNICEF Learning Lab explores effective approaches to develop digital skills to empower refugees and host communities

Supporting young people to acquire skills to use technology at work is crucial to address systemic drivers of exclusion and narrow the digital divide.

News | 31 August 2023
Geneva (ILO News) – Rapid digitalization holds the potential for job creation and improved livelihoods, especially for marginalized groups like displaced persons and refugees. Realizing these benefits, however, requires addressing substantial challenges, including the evolving skill demands.

In response to this dynamic skills landscape and to address systemic exclusion, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) teamed up for a second learning lab, themed ‘Digital Skills for Connected Jobs: Empowering Refugees and Host Communities’.

“We built on the success of the inaugural session of Learning Labs held in July this year, with the aim to delve into strategies for bolstering the digital skills of these vulnerable groups,” said Zulum Avila, ILO Specialist in Employment Strategies for the Digital Economy.

Khushbakht Hojiev, Adolescent Programme Manager for the Education and Adolescent Development Programme at UNICEF Uganda, underlined, “Digital skills not only offer opportunities for universal digital learning. When complemented with soft skills, digital skills prove to be an accelerator of transferable skills that are necessary for children and young people for the 21st century.”

Demand for digitally skilled workers will continue to grow

Julian Varnom, Technical Officer specializing in skills for social inclusion at the ILO, shed light on the transformative influence of digitalization. “The ever-evolving digital economy is driving profound changes, reshaping job roles, and igniting unprecedented demand for skills across countries and sectors. These changes extend even into traditionally people-oriented professions. However, the extent of change varies across countries, hinging on the digital infrastructure in place, including elements like high-speed Internet and cloud computing. Businesses also respond uniquely to technological integration, either expanding or streamlining their workforce. Confronting this rapid digital transformation, professionals are embracing lifelong learning to continuously enhance their skills, staying relevant in their fields,” added Varnom.

Recent ILO studies analyzing the supply and demand of digital skills in Nigeria and South Africa unveiled a digital skills gap. Jonas Bausch, Youth Employment Specialist, from ILO’s Regional Office for Africa, disclosed that in Nigeria, 35 per cent of employers find challenging to find candidates with basic digital skills, while 30 per cent struggle with sourcing advanced skills. Anticipated high-demand digital roles for the upcoming five years span areas such as microwork, website management, and design. In South Africa, the analysis of the digital skills gap underscores disparities between the skills anticipated by employers and the skill sets currently possessed by youth, particularly in intermediate digital skills.

Upskilling initiatives to use digital technology to work

Many organizations have embarked on upskilling initiatives tailored for displaced youth, refugees, and the communities that host them. Among the standout organizations driving meaningful change are Learning Lions and Gaza Sky Geeks.

Learning Lions commenced their digital skills training in Turkana Kenya in 2015, one of the most remote rural areas in the country, with a mission to empower underserved young people, including those in refugee communities. They employ a tiered approach, guiding learners through varying levels of skill development, from very basic to advanced upskilling programmes. Conversely, Gaza Sky Geeks concentrate their efforts on professional skills training as the majority of Palestinian youth are achieving higher education. They offer a spectrum of training, both long-term and short-term, designed to equip their graduates with the expertise needed to become full-stack developers or specialists in niche markets.

In addition to digital skills, both organizations emphasize the development of employability skills. June Helderle, co-founder of Learning Lions, underscored the significance of soft skills, as many learners face challenges in areas like professional communication and grasping the importance of meeting deadlines. Alan El-Kadhi, Director of Gaza Sky Geeks in Palestine, shared a similar perspective. Despite their programme’s focus on individuals with a high level of education, essential transferable skills, such as teamwork, are still found to be lacking.

While both organizations incorporate freelance training to enable participants to generate income, they are keenly aware of the challenges associated with freelancing, including the discontinuous nature of the work and the difficulty of establishing a long-term business relationship with clients. Consequently, these organizations are placing increased emphasis on facilitating long-term employment opportunities, enabling individuals to work remotely for overseas companies, thereby contributing to the growth of the local economy.

Building digital skills can make a life changing impact for young people, especially those affected by forced displacement. Investment is also needed in these contexts to secure access to reliable and affordable connectivity infrastructure and electricity, for example, through facilitating co-working spaces for young people.

During an open discussion, Learning Lab participants stressed the importance of developing partnerships with global and local employers as an strategy to use freelancing as a steeping-stone into jobs and entrepreneurship activity that have a long-lasting impact on local economies and helps to cultivate an inclusive environment for displaced individuals and refugees.

Did you miss the Learning Lab? Watch - Recording of the 2nd Learning Lab session