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Skills disconnect hinders African growth

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Kathy Gibson reports from the World Economic Forum on Africa in Durban – One of the biggest challenges impacting Africa’s growth is the mismatch between available skills and jobs, coupled with the fact that many of today’s jobs will disappear entirely as automation goes mainstream.

The continent’s youth is one of its biggest economic advantages: 60% of Africa’s population is under the age of 25 and, by 2030, it will be home to one-quarter of the world’s under-25 population.

But, although these youngsters are better educated and connected than the continent has ever seen, there is a massive disconnect in our ability to prepare them for the jobs they will need to do.

In South Africa, a massive 39% of the core skills required for jobs in 2020 will be completely different from today, and 41% of today’s jobs could be taken over by automation.

The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index finds that the region’s capacity to adapt to the requirements of future jobs leaves little space for complacency. While a number of African economies are relatively underexposed to labour market disruptions at present, this picture is changing rapidly. This window of opportunity must be used by the region’s leaders to prepare for tomorrow.

Sub-Saharan Africa only captures 55% of its human capital potential, compared to a global average of 65%.

As the youngsters that make up the bulk of the population enter the workforce – and there will be about 600-million working-age adults by 2030 compared to 370-million today – they will be more educated than their parents. At least 52% of today’s youngsters will have a secondary school education, compared to 36% in 2010.

With 15-milllion to 20-million increasingly well-educated young people joining the African workforce every year for the next three decades, delivering the ecosystem for quality jobs – and future skills to match – will be imperative for fully leveraging the continent’s demographic dividend.

While a massive 41% of all work activities in South Africa are susceptible to automation, this rises to 44% in Ethiopia, 46% in Nigeria and 52% in Kenya. And, although this might be mitigated to some extent by comparatively low labour costs, and offset by new job creation, there is concern over whether Africa can adapt to further job disruption.

Employers across the region already identify inadequately skilled workforces as a major constraint to their businesses, including 41% of all firms in Tanzania, 30% in Kenya, 9% in South Africa and 6% in Nigeria. The Index finds that this pattern may get worse as the core skills required for jobs will change dramatically in future – in South Africa, this is estimated at 39%.

Technology and digital transformation are driving the changes in skills requirements. The average ICT intensity of jobs in South Africa increased by 26% over the last decade, while 6,7% of all formal sector employment in Ghana and 18,4% in Kenya occurs in occupations with high ICT intensity.

“Across the continent, substantial potential exists for creating high-value-adding, formal-sector jobs in a number of areas. However, to realize this potential, closer dialogue between education providers and industry is needed to align and optimise the region’s demand and supply of skills,” says Nicolaas Kruger, CEO of MMI Holdings and chair of the Africa Skills Initiative.

“The data show that, to prepare for the future of work, the region must expand its high-skilled talent pool by developing future-ready curricula, with a particular emphasis on STEM education; increase digital fluency and ICT literacy across the population; provide robust and respected technical and vocational education; and create a culture of life-long learning, including the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure,” says Saadia Zahidi, head of education, gender and work and  member of the executive committee at the World Economic Forum.

To reduce the disconnect between jobs and skills, countries need to future-proof their education systems, focussing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills, investing in digital fluency and ICT literacy skills; providing robust and respected technical and vocational education and training (TVET); and creating a culture of lifelong learning including the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure.