Maverick Life


A free video-based learning app to get new skills

A free video-based learning app to get new skills
Image: Firmbee / Pixabay

With sky-rocketing youth unemployment rates plaguing South Africa and the continent at large, some companies are working toward solutions. TRACE Academia, a new video-based learning app, is aimed at empowering the youth population, providing them with tangible skills and connecting them with opportunities for employment.

South Africa’s youth unemployment rate has reached a staggering high – it is now the highest in the world, and more young people are unemployed than employed, reported Daily Maverick at The Gathering.

The main reported reason for inactivity of young people in the job market is discouragement – they have lost hope of finding a job that suits their skills or in the area they reside, according to the statistics department of South Africa. 

“We need real, concrete, multistakeholder projects to address this challenge – partnerships that generate full-time opportunities,” said CEO at Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator Kasthuri Soni. “Unemployment is the crisis of our lifetime.”

Read in Daily Maverick: The Economy and Business Environment – without a silver bullet, we need collective action on the youth unemployment crisis

TRACE Academia, a free new app and youth education initiative stemming from TRACE TV (the most popular Afro-pop music channel in Africa), is implementing strategies hoping to change these youth unemployment statistics.

Addressing the root of the problem

Launched in May 2022, the app offers a plethora of free digital courses, aiming to “remove entry barriers in employment opportunities and increase access to information” for the young people of South Africa, according to its managing director, Femi Taiwo.

There is a “strong linkage” between education and employment, Taiwo explained. 

For most African students, opportunities to prepare for the world of work mostly happen at high school level – but the quality of the majority of African high schools is “not sufficient or qualitative enough for this kind of professional preparation”. In a number of African countries, he added, only about one out of five young people has the opportunity to attend university.

Read in Daily Maverick: Our unequal education system is not a fair fight, it’s an ambush

“One of the major dimensions of the problem is the lack of opportunity to build relevant skills that are in demand and needed for the market and each line of work,” said Taiwo. 

An ambitious plan and educational programme

TRACE Academia currently offers more than 200 courses across industries and sectors, and plans to have up to 500 by next year – topics include soft skills and hard skills that are desired by employers.

Whether a course teaches a young person how to become a satellite dish installer or a contractor or freelancer, the goal is to “empower young people beyond just another qualification on their CV”, said Taiwo.

TRACE Academia has established a partnership for every course on the app, with organisations like Google, Schneider Electric, UNESCO, University of Johannesburg and others. These partnerships give the courses “weight in the marketplace” and “substantial credibility”. In fact, as Taiwo explained, TRACE Academia is “fighting for different forms of accreditation in different countries for educational qualifications”.

After certain professional courses are successfully completed, the users may be offered an internship opportunity with the partner. There are currently four “pipeline” internships that have been established, he said, adding that eventually TRACE Academia will build a large network of internships, mentorships, scholarships, certificates, business grants and more.

“It’s not just about what they learn from the courses… When they finish courses, they will start to see a clear pathway to opportunity.” 

At the moment, TRACE Academia’s courses are only offered in English, French and Portuguese, with the majority of the consumer base located in Anglophone and Francophone Africa, Afro-Caribbean countries and recently, Brazil and France.

However, the goal is to gradually expand to the entirety of the African continent as the platform grows. Taiso says there have been growing downloads in Mali, Uganda and Botswana and the numbers are currently showing 3,000 downloads per day.

Engaging approach – but it’s all a question of access

When the user opens the app, they are presented with a visual library of a wide selection of course topics, also available in a scrolling video-based format in a “snackable” and “gamified” manner.

“It’s an engaging TikTok-esque approach, but applied to education,” said Prescillia Avenel-Delpha, the chief marketing officer. “It captures their attention and memory.”

Read in Maverick Life: Job hunting, TikTok and the rise of the video CV

Easy entertainment is the strategy, she said, and the app features celebrities (such as Rihanna), mini-games, pop-up questions, a points system and even a personality quiz to match users to potential careers of interest.

TRACE Academia prioritises representation to which students can relate, she said – the courses are taught by people who “look like them”. The app also aims to empower women by featuring many female-led discussions.

“We are creating localised content that is relatable for youth across Africa,” she added, explaining that she envisions TRACE Academia one day becoming a “job dating” platform, like the “Tinder of jobs”. Employers looking for talent will be matched with learners taking specific courses on the app.

TRACE Academia stands out from other popular learning platforms because, Taiwo said, “In Nairobi or Lagos or Soweto, most young people can’t pay for or even access platforms such as LinkedIn Learning.”

“The African youth market is totally disconnected and they need something that is much more contextualised to them, and TRACE Academia gives them that,” he said. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Five competitive ways to make your LinkedIn profile work for you

“It’s a powerful tool, but it’s all a question of access,” Avenel-Delpha agreed.

All of the course offerings are currently free, as long as the user has access to a mobile device and data. Students are struggling to pay for data in order to access the courses (and many of them can’t at all), Taiwo explained, which is why TRACE Academia is entirely free. The team is continuing to brainstorm ways to address the limitations of access.

“We won’t leave young people behind,” Taiwo added. DM/ML


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