In a country - Côte d'Ivoire - where students struggle to find worthwhile courses that will help them get into the job market, the careers advice platform Forem is a valuable tool. Its director and founder, Edwige Doumbia, shares her thinking behind the site’s creation and explains why it is so urgently needed.
What is Forem and how does the site work?
Forem is a platform that provides specialist careers advice to school pupils and students in Côte d'Ivoire and elsewhere. It primarily provides information on careers, the qualifications you need to access them, and the universities and higher education establishments that deliver these qualifications. However, the project is unique in that every person who accesses the platform has an opportunity to chat to a careers adviser, if they wish.
What led you to create the site?
I was impacted by a personal experience during my studies. I had a classmate who was extremely intelligent but had absolutely no idea which career to choose. He completed his studies on autopilot, and had no motivation. While doing some research to try and help him, I realised that none of the options I found were actually courses on offer in Côte d'Ivoire. When you're a student in Africa and you search online for career ideas, most of the time all you find is a list of degrees delivered in western countries. But life in those parts of the world isn’t exactly the same as here, some careers exist in France that don't exist in Côte d'Ivoire. This leaves our students uncertain as to what to do.
How did the project come to fruition?
I took part in the AyadaLab incubation and mentoring programme in 2019. The experience enabled me to come up with and develop the Forem project, as well as to raise the necessary funding to expand the site's influence. I also took part in the Social & Inclusive Business Camp (SIBC) run by the French Development Agency (AFD) in 2020, which allowed me to consolidate my management skills and diversify my network.
What would you say are the keys to choosing the right career?
I firmly believe that the most important thing is to really know yourself. Knowing whether you are shy, outgoing or methodical can help you find the right career and feel fulfilled. The other challenge is the weight of tradition, our parents’ choices. Herd mentality is very common in Côte d'Ivoire. If their neighbour’s son starts on a certain career path, parents will sign their own child up without a second thought. It is often the parents who will decide what their son or daughter is going to train in. It’s very important that our elders understand that they can discuss things with their children and that they should be allowed to freely choose their own career. Forem is working towards this by organising career days, to which parents are invited so they can learn more about the subject. I say this a lot, but it was down to my own parents’ openness that I was able to spread my wings with the Forem project.
What does meeting with a counsellor bring to all this?
Careers advice is a much more complex subject than you may think. It needs to take into account not just the skills, but the personality and ambitions of each student. Using psychometric tests, the adviser can detect all this and pull together a set of appropriate suggestions for the student. Unfortunately in our region, this aspect of school life is often given short shrift. To give you an idea: in Côte d'Ivoire there are currently just 1500 careers advisers for almost 5 million students. And only students who are in their exams year can meet with one. In the earlier years, it’s impossible to find an adviser.
It seems the student is responsible for part of the solution, but what about the course offer? Does it meet students’ needs?
Not at all. Many of the courses available in Côte d'Ivoire do not offer any kind of job prospects and you simply end up going back to school once you've got your qualification. A good example is the BTS (higher national diploma) in customs studies that leads nowhere, because competitive examinations in customs are simply no longer held. A kind of copying and pasting goes on. If a course works in another country, it is offered here without stopping to question whether it is suitable for the local jobs market. One of the advantages of Forem is that it focuses on specific areas of study in order to target the most promising career options in our region.
Forem appears to attract users from outside Côte d'Ivoire: from Africa as well as from Europe and the United States. Why do you think that is?
Choosing a career is a challenge shared by every student, all over the world. This is one of the reasons why Forem is directly accessible in English, so we can reach as many people as possible. More broadly, we recently carried out a survey on social media and it found that a lot of people in Côte d'Ivoire and Africa take a utilitarian approach to their career, basically to give them an income. I think this is one of the problems that is holding the continent back and I think it’s important to help address it.
How do you see the site developing over the coming years?
Initially, Forem was just a basic information platform. Over time, we have positioned ourselves more as a proper careers guidance service, but still with a social purpose. So the cost of meeting with a careers adviser must remain affordable. The other key area of development relates to communication, because we plan to distribute a careers guidance magazine in the country’s schools over the coming months. The magazine will be the first of its kind in Côte d'Ivoire and will be completely free.
The Forem platform, created by Edwige Doumbia, benefited from the support of the AyadaLab programme
Initiated and led by the Goethe-Institut and the Institut français, AyadaLab is a French-German incubation and acceleration programme for young entrepreneurs from West Africa.
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