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Pandemic lockdown leads to innovative tech opportunities reshaping professions
While the pandemic has led to a contraction of economic activity in Africa, new technologies have boosted local development
By Faustine Ngila VOL.12 September ·2020-09-09
Daisy Achieng shows a 3D printed touchless door handle, manufactured by Kijenzi 3D, in Milimani, Kisumu City of Kenya (FAUSTINE NGILA)

Every morning, Daisy Achieng walks 3 km from her home to her workplace at LakeHub, Milimani in Kisumu, a city 350 km northwest of Nairobi.

The customer services officer picks up her consignment of personal protective equipment (PPE), jumps in to a delivery cab and drops off at hospitals throughout Kisumu County.

Achieng was lucky enough to get the job opportunity five months ago, created just weeks after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Kenya. Her duties constitute an important part of the chain process to help Kenyans in this difficult time and beyond.

The PPE supplies include face shields, touchless door handles and dialysis couplers, which have all been manufactured by 3D printing, technology that is helping the country cut costs while boosting quality and volumes of production, and helping combat the pandemic.

"This is a job I find inspiring, because the supplies from foreign countries are expensive, and they [the ones being printed locally] are of the same quality. The market is huge and only technology can meet the demand. It's a job for the future," said 29-year-old Achieng.

Her employer Kijenzi 3D began toying with the idea of additive manufacturing three years ago, but it was not until the pandemic hit the world that the dream became reality.

"We are looking into the future of manufacturing, especially in medical equipment and their parts, and we began this journey in April to fill the gaps in the production of these supplies," David Oginga Okia, the company's engineer, told ChinAfrica.

Technology in the time of COVID-19

The technology of 3D printing is welcomed by youth in Kenya, with training happening at technology hubs.

For Alice Ada, 23, her passion shifted to 3D printing after the pandemic began, and she now aims to become a professional 3D designer, and deliver projects that will help make medical goods more affordable.

"I am being trained by Kijenzi on 3D modeling and design. I began in July and will complete the course this month [August]," said the biomedical engineer, who graduated from Kenyatta University last year.

The training is also taking place in Nairobi, Mombasa, Machakos and Eldoret. Other startups leading in the 3D printing in the East African country are Kuunda 3D, Ultra Red Technologies and AB3D.

As Africa warms up to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, there is a gradual rise in the use of emerging technologies, which are fast reshaping professions across the continent.

More application of blockchain, big data and cloud computing is evident as the cost of Internet access and latency keeps falling every year.

Benjamin Arunda, who wrote the first book in Africa that elaborates on blockchain technology, reveals that there has been a surge in the demand of blockchain talent in Africa since March. Blockchain is a digital record of transactions used originally in cryptocurrencies, but can now be used for non-financial purposes.

"Owing to the work-from-home directives by African governments [now], we have seen an upward trend in the request for blockchain educators and developers by corporates. The technology has found more use during this period," said the author of Understanding the Blockchain.

Modern data skills required

In the past four months, the training for blockchain, cryptocurrencies and decentralized related technologies has seen youth who understand the technologies cash in on the soaring demand for knowledge, even as cryptocurrencies remain banned by most African central banks.

Brian Adams, a Nairobi-based blockchain and cryptocurrency educator, said more employees are upskilling to bolster their careers by taking blockchain classes.

"Professionals in finance, law, media, education, health, agriculture and transport are signing up to blockchain training which we conduct via video conferencing," said the 24-year-old founder of Cryptocurrency Academy.

Adams said that initially, there was low demand, but the coronavirus has become a catalyst for digital transformation.

"Before COVID-19, we had 10 to 15 students in a class; but now we have 25 to 30 learners. The traffic to our website and our social media platforms has risen four-fold," he said.

Due to uncertainties about the future of most African economies in the post-COVID-19 period, the field of big data has attracted the highest interest among business leaders, innovators and researchers.

Andrew Mukabana, a data scientist in Nairobi quit his job to join the field. According to him, traditional data analysis has become obsolete and the future relies on aggregated, anonymized digital data analytics.

"The new field pays better. If you earned $1,000 for the traditional [data] analysis, employers can now pay you $3,000 because they know the value [of the new analytics]. The new field allows companies to make decisions faster and easier," he said.

But with a gap in data science reskilling still evident, startups in Nairobi are bridging the gap by offering training programs.

"There is growing demand for modern data analysis skills in Kenya and we are trying to make sure the curriculum is credible by offering concrete content and a certification," said Timothy Oriedo, founder of big data training startup Predictive Analytics Lab.

During the pandemic, Oriedo has seen a higher attendance for his Zoom classes, with people from neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and even South Africa subscribing for three-month courses.

Data science, on which artificial intelligence and machine learning are anchored, has drawn much admiration from investors as data becomes the new "oil."

E-commerce expansion

While the pandemic has led to a contraction of economic activity in Africa, the e-commerce industry has been a big beneficiary due to the contactless directives issued by health ministries.

More delivery agents and suppliers have jumped on the bandwagon, as safety conscious customers flock to online shops to access the goods they need.

Sam Chappatte, Chief Executive Officer of popular e-commerce platform Jumia Kenya, said that the use of new purchase options such as the Whatsapp platform are catering to the needs of thousands of Kenyans working from home. This, he added, has opened up new job opportunities where youth register as online sales agents.

"We have removed all cash payments on delivery to avoid spreading the virus using bank notes. We have also recruited more delivery agents and bought them protective gears to take goods to customer's houses," said Chappatte.

With the delivery service sub-sector expanding, Sendy, the online logistics solution provider for Kenyan supermarkets, has more than doubled its motorbike delivery workforce with more than 300 riders now dedicated to supporting the online retail program in Nairobi.

As a tech expert specializing in app development, Achieng has been using the pandemic period to teach fellow Africans how to create apps without having any coding skills.

"The old way of developing apps is slow and cumbersome and mindsets must change toward new ways of working with technology in the future," said Achieng.

Clearly, the forced lockdowns globally have placed the ball firmly in the court of innovators looking for new ways of operating in many fields, most notably in the digital space, spawning a variety of new job categories that will no doubt design the way people live in future. CA

(Print Edition Title: Designing the Future)

Reporting from Kenya

Comments to zanjifang@chinafrica.cn

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