Skills mismatches are the second largest driver of youth unemployment in Africa. Traditional education systems are not responsive enough to the needs of the quickly changing global economy, leading young people to find themselves lacking the skills employers seek in today’s job market. The high cost of tuition and training materials compounds the problem, but customizable education can address these barriers by providing students with a menu of course options in low-cost settings.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) allow anyone with a laptop or smart phone and reliable internet connection access to a tailored, affordable, world-class education anytime and anywhere. Since late 2011, there have been at least 16 million registrants for thousands of online courses provided by nearly 500 universities, including 22 of the top 25 universities in the United States. Some courses, such as finance and introductory programming, are subject-oriented and help build technical skills, while others like time management and communication build soft skills that employers want to see in their new hires and that are also crucial for entrepreneurs. Some courses are specifically designed for students to improve their job-seeking capabilities, like interview and recruiting test preparation. For example, CV preparation classes explain what a CV is, the format it should have, the structure, and how to write and tailor CVs for different positions.

Case study: With its unique approach, Kepler Kigali in Rwanda is aiming to revolutionize tertiary education. The nonprofit university collaborates with employers to identify the skills that will get their students employed – these could include soft skills such as problem-solving and teamwork, and practical skills like proficiency with Microsoft Office Suite and social media. Kepler Kigali then draws material from a range of sources, including MOOCs and open source education platforms, to craft a curriculum that truly prepares students for job market success.

When the university formally launched in 2013, it received 2,700 applications for 50 spots. Two years later, Kepler Kigali successfully graduated 49 of its first 50 students. Graduates received a Kepler degree and an associate’s degree from Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America, providing them with an internationally-recognized diploma.