SNEHAR SHAH – CEO of Moringa Schoo – Kenya, eyes growth amid strong demand for tech skills.
Since 2014, Moringa School, based in Nairobi, Kenya, has been offering training courses to students who want to develop employable tech skills. The school has trained over 4,000 students. Jeanette Clark spoke to Snehar Shah – who took over as CEO from founder Audrey Cheng at the beginning of 2022 – about demand for tech talent, expansion opportunities and students’ earning potential once they’ve completed a Moringa course.
The demand for digital and tech skills training on the African continent will surge in the coming decade. This is according to a study done last year by the International Finance Corporation in partnership with the World Bank. By 2030, some level of digital skills will be required by 50-55% of all jobs in Kenya; 35-45% of jobs in Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Rwanda; and 20-25% of jobs in Mozambique.
Shah confirms the demand for tech skills on the continent is strong. “Since I joined, I have been talking to various employers – from the likes of Google, Microsoft and AWS to banks and start-ups. They all state there is a real shortage of good tech talent,” he says.
He quotes the latest Africa Developer Ecosystem 2021 report by Google and Accenture, which conducted direct research on the software developer population size in 16 markets in Africa and extrapolated those findings. It estimates the number of software developers on the continent, which has more than one billion people, at only 716,000.
In this environment, says Shah, employers resort to filling the gaps in their teams, by poaching from other companies. “They all compete for a slice of the same pie while we are trying to grow the pie.”
Moringa School now offers eight courses, each lasting around five months, ranging from software engineering and product development to data science.
“We are a shorter, more affordable alternative to university tuition,” explains Shah. “We position ourselves as a ‘training-plus’ provider, which not only provides employable skills, but also assists in placing graduates in dignified digital jobs.”
Solving the experience problem
Even though skills are scarce, employers are becoming more demanding. They require both skilled and experienced team members who can hit the ground running. To bridge this divide, Moringa School is finding ways for its students to gain experience.
Firstly, it has launched a pilot programme with a handful of Kenyan employers to provide internships. “A graduate with five months training from Moringa – along with an additional three months from an internship – will then be well equipped to be placed in a job,” says Shah.
However, there are not enough internship opportunities for all 500 to 600 students enrolling every quarter. Therefore, Moringa follows another route to provide experience pre-graduation: open-source platforms.
“We have partnered with a few tech companies who provide real-life projects on the platform allowing our students to contribute their code. We ask the developer community to review and vet the provided code. The best contribution earns a commission,” adds Shah. Even if a student does not get the commission for the best code, they still add to their Github portfolio, which helps with future employability. The school encourages all students to sign up on tech-talent marketplaces like Upwork or local equivalents such as Ethiopia’s Gebeya for this purpose.
Moringa also includes a preparation element for tech skills assessments in its courses. An employer will often put a prospective employee through an online tech test, such as those found on Codility.com. “We enable placement by providing training and practice to students to be able to complete those tests.”
Growing the business
The company has transitioned from its original physical brick-and-mortar offering to more than 80% of the enrolled students now participating online and remotely. “This allows us to scale regardless of geography,” says Shah.
The school has launched its first cohorts in Ghana and Nigeria and is focusing on scaling up in those areas in the next 12 to 18 months before considering other locations.
In Ghana, the company partnered with Impact Hub Accra, a tech accelerator that provides co-working spaces where students can access high-speed internet to join the classes presented remotely by trainers from Kenya.
In Nigeria, the partnership is with PlentyTechJobs, an online recruitment platform that connects employers with prospective employees. “They saw an opportunity to use their database with tens of thousands of job-seekers and partner with us for upskilling.”
In February 2022, Moringa School announced an agreement with Flatiron School from the US. It has licensed the use of Flatiron’s curriculum for delivery by Moringa trainers.
Flatiron, founded in 2012, has received awards over the years for its coding and software development boot camps, and has partnered with Ivy League universities, such as Yale, to provide training. “It is a long-term commercial agreement and we have struck a deal to offer the curriculum at a fraction of the price students would pay in the US,” says Shah.
Whereas a boot camp offered by Flatiron can cost a student US$16,900, at Moringa, the outlay ranges between $1,500 and $2,000 per course. “The partnership with Flatiron brings a high standard and quality of content. We use their learning management system and get access to a pedagogy that is world-class. The brand also carries a lot of weight among tech employers.”
Moringa aims to keep its courses affordable to the middle-class population in Africa and the company has a growing contingent of self-paying students. However, it would like to make its training more accessible to those from lower-income households as well. Shah reveals affordability is a constant challenge. “Especially as we are expanding to more regions where the currency exchange situation has rapidly deteriorated.”
Moringa has partnered with the Mastercard Foundation, for example, to provide scholarships to deserving students who cannot afford the course fees. “We keep pitching our proven product to other donors to see if we can expand the reach. We are also talking to prospective employers to discuss the possibility of pre-funding students who can later join their teams.”
Another option is income-sharing agreements, where a student enters into a contract to receive upfront money for tuition in exchange for a fixed percentage of future income. This still needs some refinement to manage the risk inherent in such agreements.
While Moringa School targets students after completion of high school, many of its enrolments come from university graduates who cannot find job placements and come to Moringa to retrain.
Internal research done by the company from its database of previous graduates shows the average monthly income of a student before joining Moringa matched that of the minimum national wage in Kenya at $150 per month. Some of the graduates then earn – as a first salary post-completion of their course – up to $400 per month.
“We’ve seen salary progression where a graduate with three years of experience often earns more than $1,000 per month, putting them in the top 5% to 10% of the earning population in Kenya,” adds Shah.
There is a lot of earning potential for African tech skills as remote working is further entrenched globally. Between 12% to 15% of the school’s employed graduates are already doing additional freelance work for companies across the globe. “We see this as a developing trend,” Shah says.