Before now, living in Ekiti as a young tech enthusiast would mean having to assess quality tech skills training, job opportunities, venture capital funding and startup accelerator programs outside of the landlocked state. ‘Happening places’ like Lagos are hot havens where young people in the state migrate to — to be better positioned to actively participate in Nigeria’s fast-booming tech sector. And here’s simply the reality of those who cannot afford the associated expenses: they stay behind and make do with free or affordable online resources while still unemployed and struggling to find remote jobs.
It may interest you to know that the present unemployment rate in Ekiti state stands at 32.21%, according to the latest labour force statistics released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). In fact, according to data from Stears, Ekiti has only 10% (2 million people) of Lagos’ population (20 million people) — yet unemployment in Ekiti is almost as high as in Lagos. Barring the economic power of the latter, this simply implies that the unemployment rate in Ekiti is very high in relation to its population size — quite ironic for a state widely-acclaimed as Nigeria’s knowledge capital. Also, there still shows another layer of challenge: even when tech-enabled companies come to Ekiti to set up and create jobs, there is a shortage of an employable talent pool readily equipped, upskilled and available to serve their business operational needs.
But there is now a silver lining to the long-standing dark clouds. The present Government of Ekiti State has shown that these worrisome trends should not always be the case — particularly with its investment in viable infrastructures needed to attract private sector capital and power a knowledge-based economy through the Ekiti Knowledge Zone (EKZ), Nigeria’s first service-based Special Economic Zone. Good that the sub-national government responded to the root cause with a public-private partnership (PPP) strategy. With TechCabal Insights as the implementing partner, an on-site coding boot camp and software development programme was piloted for 50 aspiring ‘tech bros and sis.’ And I must say, it was a way to go as a foundational and well-localized approach to future-proof the potential of the teeming young and ambitious population in the state for the global market.
I got a chance to participate in the inaugural cohort of the fully-funded training for 4 months with access to the necessary facilities. With hopes for new learning experiences, I became a part of the project’s take-off as proof of concept that tech talent development can thrive in the state for the rising demands of the future of work. The programme featured a hybrid learning delivery model with 90% physical classes and with a faculty of expert tutors from Utiva. All of them were thorough and engaging in training the participants on Frontend & Backend Fundamentals, and Database Management — with assignments for continuous assessments, additional training on soft skills, positioning for tech job opportunities and LinkedIn profile optimization, and as well capstone projects to work on.
For me and others, the programme was worth every time commitment invested to achieve the targeted learning outcomes. And I am hopeful we will maximize the in-demand tech skills acquired to gain decent jobs and also navigate avenues to build profitable, problem-solving startup companies.
The startups we all built at the stage of Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) ranged from agric-tech, civic-tech, e-commerce, online classroom, health-tech, etc. And they were showcased as homegrown digital solutions to challenges Ekiti residents face on the Demo Day, marking the end of the software development programme.
My group developed a startup that aims to connect Ekiti local farmers with investors within and outside the state. We named the platform FarmConnect, and it will exist to serve the large yet untapped agrarian community in Ekiti and scale their agricultural productivity to achieve food security with access to funding opportunities. This will complement the government’s investment drive in the agricultural sector to boost yield for arable and livestock farmers in the state’s Special Agricultural Processing Zone to meet their growing scale of production. Our strategic focus will be on the famous Igbemo rice Ekiti is known for, cocoa, cassava, yam, poultry farms and the government’s joint-venture, Ikun Dairy Farm. It was interesting for my team of creative young folks to work on such an important project with growth prospects to scale and catalyze impact. Also, it was a fun ride for me to have worked on the UI/UX design team to ensure a compelling visual experience for users.
My takeaway from all the startups we all pitched on the Demo Day was the unimaginable potential of technology to positively transform our lives, societies and small businesses. And I believe as talented youth, this era is our golden hour to explore, prepare and innovate for the future technology is leading our ever-evolving world to. On the whole, I realized there are new vistas of opportunities abound to create with tech in high-unemployment markets and high-potential economies like that of Ekiti. More than anything, young people will be at the heart of leading and powering such transformations.
I understand investments in human capital development by governments take long periods to mature and even deliver tangible results. As the current government transitions, I sincerely hope the incoming administration in Ekiti sustains the political will for tech talent development projects and consolidates the efforts made so far. And most importantly, I hope the government does not only prioritize ease-of-doing-business policies but also ensures recurrent spending on more PPP-driven skills development incubators to boost the economic development of the state and facilitate the upward mobility of its residents.
It’s also good news that the government hopes to domesticate and implement the Nigeria Startup Bill (NSB), as this will help provide a favourable environment for the emergence and bloom of indigenous, high-growth tech startups based in the state. My own policy recommendation: the Ekiti State government can consider adding “Coding” as a subject to secondary schools’ ICT curriculum across the state, taking a cue from a recent move by the Kenyan government. This is coupled with ensuring there is a system for the students to practically and continuously apply their coding skills.
There is a whole lot more work to flow through the talent development pipeline, and the long journey ahead has, in fact, only begun. But with the Ekiti Coding Bootcamp set on the move in top gear, we can only look back in years to come to see the difference it would contribute to making Ekiti an attractive destination of top choice for local and foreign investors in key technology-powered sectors. This will also bridge the innovation gap to chart pathways to creating tech ecosystems and hubs for Ekiti to live to its true heritage of being a society driven by knowledge.
Super excited about what’s next for us and particularly what becomes of the progress trajectory of this mission going forward. Many thanks to all the organizers, partners, project managers, tutors and co-participants for such an incredible and enriching experience.
If you are a tech enthusiast in Ekiti interested in acquiring coding skills and networking with other software developers, you can join the registration wait-list for the next cohort here. Given the success of the pioneer edition, this boot camp comes highly recommended and I believe it will only get better as it continues on a bigger scale.
Ayomide Agbaje is a freelance writer with interests in business, technology, governance and policy advocacy.