How Egypt is building a generation of IT pros to close the skills gap
The Egyptian government is working towards turning the country into an internationally recognised hub for specialist technology skills. (Part two of a three-part series on the government's Digital Egypt strategy.)
By Keri Allan
Johnny Greig / Getty Images
As part of its Digital Egypt strategy, the Egyptian government is undertaking a series of major investments in ICT education. Developed to strengthen and diversify the nation’s economy by bolstering technological knowledge and innovation, a key component of the Digital Egypt project is to ensure that the country’s large youth population has the technical skills it needs to excel in a tech-focused job market.
“Digital transformation is for the people, about the people and by the people, which is why this is one of our pillars,” explains Khaled El Attar, vice minister for administrative development, digital transformation and automation at Egypt’s Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT).
This work in Egypt has begun with several major initiatives, including the Future Work is Digital (FWD) government-sponsored online scholarship programme. Developed in collaboration with Udacity, it offers free qualifications in data analytics, digital marketing and web development.
Originally the goal was to offer 30,000 scholarships, but the pandemic saw MCIT accelerate its efforts and it now plans to train 100,000 during 2020-21. “The idea is to expand our skill pool and build a new generation of ICT savvy people that can help build a successful digital society in Egypt,” Amr Talaat, Egyptian Minister of Communications and Information Technology said at the IDC Egypt CIO Summit this September.
The Digital Egypt Builders Initiative (DEBI) is another free scholarship scheme, this time focused on providing postgraduate qualifications in specialities such as AI, cybersecurity, and robotics and automation.
“A thousand students will be invited to participate in a one-year programme in one of these disciplines,” says Talaat. “They will obtain a master’s degree alongside international certificates in leadership and management, and then be able to start a career in their chosen specialism.”
When it opens next year, the Knowledge City will consist of two R&D applied centres in advanced technologies that collaborate with global technology innovators with the aim of designing and building systems to address societal and economic needs. It will also have a training institute for specialized technologies, the National Academy of Information Technology for Persons with Disabilities, and the Egyptian University of Informatics (EUI).
The first of its kind in the MENA region, the EUI will open with four faculties; computer science, engineering, business informatics and digital arts. Currently work is underway to partner with international academic institutions such as Purdue University, to develop and offer specialised courses.
Digital Egypt aims to create a pool of IT pros
These projects are all designed with the goal of creating a pool of tech-savvy professionals that can take the country forward, explains El Attar.
Though the pandemic in Egypt, as in other countries, has caused unemployment rates to increase, the country has a need for IT professionals. Investments in the communications and information technology increased by 300 percent this year, according to Planning Minister Hala el Saeed, and economic reforms that have been implemented since 2016 continue to support the Egyptian economy. All of this, coupled with the need for IT pros that the Digital Egypt programme is creating, has increased demand for a tech-savvy workforce, particularly in areas such as software and security engineering, systems administrators and data analysts.
“From a business point of view, Egypt needs a lot more ICT specialisation. Most Egyptian businesses have ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in their IT departments and so we’re trying to change this culturally. We need to see more specialist data scientists, software architects, blockchain experts,” El Attar says.
This will help with the MCIT’s wider Digital Egypt strategy, which is seeing the department collaborate with technology firms in their droves on the plethora of digital transformation projects both planned and underway.
“There are a lot of good opportunities for local businesses; chances to grow and potentially export their services. We think of this work as a stepping stone towards exporting more and more,” El Attar adds.
IT skills to boost Egypt’s standing as tech hub
Egyptian government initiatives to improve healthcare for residents, along with venture capital interest in the sector and a growing local talent pool, have already made the country one of the health tech startup hotspots in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the Digital Egypt plan to invest in skills can help local enterprises expand into diverse areas, says Nagia El Emary, Egypt Country Director and MEA Senior Consultant at IDC.
“This is an opportunity for Egyptian businesses to gain international revenue as the country becomes known as a hub for tech skills,” says El Emary. “The government is putting a focus on increasing skills in order not only to avail more technology solutions for itself, but also export Egypt’s IT skills and grow in the business process outsourcing (BPO) space,” she says.
With young people representing 60% of Egypt’s population, these are the people that will enable Egypt’s digital transformation to be fully realised. By investing in their education now, not only will Digital Egypt become a reality, it will enable many more businesses to undertake their own digital transformations.
“Around 70% of large businesses in Egypt have some form of digital transformation strategy they’re in various stages of implementing. For these to be successful they need new blood, new skills and new thinking. A lot of this is going to come from the newly-skilled youths that the MCIT’s programmes are providing,” El Emary concludes.