Pierre Dubuc, cofounder of this Paris-based start-up, gives details about the presence of OpenClassrooms in Africa. Its online training programs contribute to improving youth employment in the digital sector.

Photo: Ai.Comput'In - Cc Flickr
Photo: Ai.Comput'In - Cc Flickr

OpenClassrooms is a start-up with 70 employees based in Paris. It trains 3 million people a month on Internet in digital activities in French, English and Spanish, in 126 countries around the world. It works in partnership with national employment agencies, particularly in Africa, and contributes to improving youth employment, as explained by Pierre Dubuc, its founder.


How important is Africa to OpenClassrooms?

It accounts for a quarter of our total audience, with a high concentration in French-speaking Africa.

We sign training agreements country by country: we already did in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, and are planning to do so in Togo, Central African Republic (CAR), Senegal, Mali, Cameroon and Côte d’Ivoire.

In Africa, as in France, OpenClassrooms offers a range of 200 certificate-based, vocational and diploma-based training courses in digital activities (website developer, digital marketing, data scientist) and, since 2017, in crosscutting business functions (sales, project management, human resources). Starting in 2018, our offer will also be sectoral with specific digital training on the sectors of building, industry, logistics, etc.



What are the specific features of your training courses?

OpenClassrooms offers short-term modular training courses. They fit together and can become long-term training leading to a diploma. We issue bac + 2, 3, 4 or 5 university level diplomas, which are recognized by the State, as we are registered with the Paris Education Authority.

The short-term training courses last between six and twelve months and can start at any time of the year. The OpenClassrooms approach is pragmatic, and focuses on the acquisition of the skills required to do a given job. Our training is very flexible: students can do internships and if they already have experience, we can validate their acquired experience (VAE system).

Skills acquisition takes place in three formats: videos, educational texts and exercises leading to certificates. We can also have exchanges by video conference, via one-on-one or collective discussions. All OpenClassrooms students are coached by a mentor, who gives them individual support on Internet every week. At the end of their training, students give a presentation of their project in front of a mentor they do not know. The mentor plays the role of the client or manager during this exam. A video of this presentation is recorded and is part of the evidence of the acquisition of skills.


How do you make sure that the training matches market needs?

A team of thirty people in Paris works full-time on creating educational paths and identifying the core competencies which need to be acquired for each activity. We focus very much on employability. We refine our range of training by working closely with federations for each business line, questioning recruiters and human resources directors, and analyzing job offers on Internet.

The job titles can vary: behind the advertisements looking for “Web project managers”, “webmasters”, “digital project managers”, we find that the same skills are sought. Here again, we analyze the differences so that we can offer the most comprehensive training, which will provide the most opportunities.

Conversely, several skills sets can be requested behind the same job title. The activity of “data scientist”, which requires a bac + 5 university level, is still very recent and there is no specific reference. Consequently, each company asks for different things – for example, “R” or “Python” computer programming languages – and we take this into account.


What are the different business needs in Africa?

On the one side, there are large international and local groups, on the other, a base of SMEs and entrepreneurs.

Large companies have quite globalized needs. For example, in Morocco, Capgemini recruits developers by the thousands, with the same skills requirement as in France. At local level, this company finds neither the number of people sought, nor the rigor in the acquisition of skills as in France or Europe, with the same degree of upgrading of the skills learnt at school. The courses need to be fairly comprehensive, as the employees on the Capgemini platforms in Morocco work on international projects, for clients who are in France or abroad.

To take another example in Morocco, the Office Chérifien des Phosphates (OCP), a local company, is starting to extensively digitize its activity and recruits with an international level of requirements. OCP is looking for “data scientists” or experts in connected objects to manufacture drones used in agriculture.

Secondly, there are microenterprises and SMEs, most of which are seeking less skilled people (Bac +2 or 3), but in large numbers for certain activities. In Africa, there is, for example, a great need for computer maintenance technicians – in other words, people to get the printer working, install a new computer, etc. This type of need is declining in France, but as Africa is in the process of getting equipped, there is strong demand for technical assistance on the equipment, networks and infrastructure.



Is the cost of the training the same everywhere?

Yes, it is. A diploma costs between EUR 2,000 and EUR 4,000 everywhere, because our mentors are in the North and are expensive. It is currently difficult for us to adjust to the purchasing power of African countries.

In Africa, our objective is to establish closer ties with national employment agencies at local level, to create networks of local mentors and adjust their salaries to local purchasing power. We will subsequently be able to pass on this cost reduction to the price of our training courses.

We also offer free certificate-based training courses, short modules, in France, Morocco and Tunisia, through our partnerships with the National Employment Agencies. We have already trained 50,000 people in this way.


What do donors do for you?

Our credo is to match education and training with employment. OpenClassrooms has a partnership with AFD for a project in Morocco, to create a digital sector and provide large-scale training in new activities in the sector, with local mentors. It is a major project in which the Government, ministries and public employment services are partners, as well as AFD or other donors to finance the project.


Do you have competition in this field?

No, not really. We are the only ones to provide full online diploma courses. The leading African business schools are starting to adapt their courses to digital activities, but they do not always have our level of maturity in this field. When people follow a traditional course, they are in a class of 50 people. Training 100 or 150 people in three years does not build a country’s digital sector.

The interest of the OpenClassrooms concept in Africa lies in the fact that we are able to reach a larger number of students, among which “prevented” publics, throughout a national territory, by overcoming the obstacles of both distance and daily schedules. The online training allows people who are already working to train at the same time, for example, with a view to retraining.

Starting this summer, we will be extending our “Job Guarantee” option, which was launched in France this year, to all the countries where we operate, by following up Openclassrooms students so that they can find a job. This option is very simple: if you do not find a job within six months after your diploma, we reimburse the cost of the training.


The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

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