DARA Big Data funded the DigiSkills Africa course, which was organised by partner institution SARAO in conjunction with AIMS and with Ireland-based engineering services and innovative solutions provider InnoGlobal. The course offered training that is applicable to many advanced manufacturing sectors and was the first of its kind to be offered on the African continent.
The learning content was developed by InnoGlobal through its higher education institute, InnoPharma Education, and covered the smart integration of technologies, processes and data to improve operational effectiveness and capability. Within the manufacturing sector, expertise is needed in process digitalisation, data management, data analytics and data visualisation to successfully transform to what is known as Industry 4.0.
This course was an expansion of the skills training initiatives offered through DARA Big Data, focussing on applications of big data technologies in addition to data analytical skills, compliance and ethics. The course built on the multidisciplinary nature of the DARA Big Data project with the course content applied to advanced manufacturing sectors within the pharmaceutical, medical technology and food systems industries.
DigiSkills Africa was intensive, made up of various online courses and lectures followed by a 1 week in-person workshop in November 2022, offering the participants the opportunity to learn more and network with their peers and lecturers. The workshop was attended by more than 40 participants from 8 African countries (with more attending remotely), who were exposed to Pharma product development, the role of data in the smart factory, digital technologies in Pharma, food processing and manufacturing amongst other areas. Participants were also exposed to concepts for Industry 4.0 and the future of high-tech manufacturing through Industry 5.0. After the event the learning continued for participants, as it was followed by virtual lectures, digital labs and valuable career mentorship sessions. A full write-up of the event by SARAO, including quotes from key figures in attendance, can be found here.
Two of the participants took the time to give an insight into their experiences of DigiSkills Africa and the impact it had on them. Javan Sydney travelled from Kenya for the event; he has a background in Computer Science and specialised in Cybersecurity when studying IT Management at Masters level. As well as Cybersecurity consulting work he has also worked with an NGO to find ways of automating data collection. When asked what surprised him most about the event Javan listed a few things; ‘In this event Africa looked like a small united village whose challenges looked possible to overcome. Also the diversity of the speakers, who were carefully and purposely selected from a wide range of professions and fields (both technical and nontechnical). And the impact of ability and potential that the training had on us. We were prepared career-wise and given an understanding of where the trends of innovations are taking the world.’
Thabisile Zikalala is South African and studied Electronics Engineering and Business at BSc level. She came to the event hoping to expand her skillset, afterwards she said that the skills she gained would be useful to help any organisation in starting on the path towards digital transformation. This gave her some valuable ideas; ‘This training has put me on a journey of starting my own manufacturing company. I am currently doing some research regarding that and I expect to have agreements in place and to commence with the set up before the end of 2023.’ Thabisile is now a budding entrepreneur in the fast growing area of solar management, which involves maintaining photovoltaic solar systems to ensure their continued operation.
When asked what he found most valuable about the event, Javan noted that he had been able to develop his thought leadership skills, saying, ‘this is a skill I obtained here, allowing me to lead diverse teams with different specialties to deliver an innovative solution customised to a target market. I was able to learn the skills of the future that can accelerate careers.’ Thabisile thought that the course helped her ‘to hone in on what it is I want to focus on. My understanding and grasp of Industry 4.0 as well as CV writing and preparing for an interview were greatly improved. I also gained knowledge on Industry 5.0, which I knew absolutely nothing about before our training.’
Both Javan and Thabisile thought that the event’s impact on the continent was very positive. Thabisile said, ‘my perspective about our country and the continent's future experienced a major shift for the better. It was such a joy to discover that our South African government is doing much more work than they are being given credit for. Not to mention the work of our unsung heroes and heroines at SARAO, DARA, AIMS, Innoglobal & Newton Fund.’ Javan commented that DigiSkills Africa not only ‘focussed on training us as African individuals, but it had a bigger picture of Africa at large and this demonstrated the unity that is required to overcome the challenges of today and tomorrow.’ In a speech Javan made to all participants at the closing of the event he said, ‘We celebrate the progress and success made by these teams to demonstrate that indeed it’s possible to transition, transform and lead in our countries.’
Newton Fund Country Manager for South Africa Dr Amelia Marutle was also in attendance and told participants ‘programmes such as these are critical in order to train and produce a new generation of data scientists and technicians, as the move to digital technologies in Africa will lead to a more equitable future for all.’ She also left participants with an important and timely message; ‘Remember you are all digital transformation ambassadors and your skills and talent are invaluable for the digitalisation of Africa.’