Let’s Prepare for the Future of African Work

Africa needs a revolution. Despite being home to some of the world’s fastest growing economies, millions of Africans are still languishing in poverty. Growth is simply not trickling down to the masses, and to add fuel to the fire, African economies are not creating jobs at a fast enough clip to absorb the many millions of unemployed African youth. This is poised to create an unemployment pandemic that is already plaguing the continent.

Half of Africa’s population is under 25, and the continent battles high unemployment rates, particularly for its youth. The continent’s highest unemployment rates are, in fact, amongst university graduates—others are quickly absorbed into the informal sector and household enterprises as they can ill afford to be idle. While the much desired wage jobs will grow over the next few years in Africa, even the most conservative of predictions indicate there are too few wage jobs for highly educated graduates—only 1 in four African job-seekers will find a wage job in the next few years (Fox et al., World Bank, 2014).

On the demand side, Africa’s growing organizations struggle to find the talent they need to fuel their growth. Organizations across the continent lament the difficulty of sourcing high-quality local talent, often citing that they are ill-prepared (Kerre et al. Inter-University Council For East Africa, 2014). This creates a double-edged problem, with unfilled vacancies and inadequate entry level skills on the one hand and high unemployment and underemployment on the other.

Finally, the notion of a job itself will change dramatically over the next few years—with the rise of automation possibly undercutting traditional wage jobs in manufacturing and retail and insufficiently future-oriented education systems. We are underprepared as a continent for any of these explosions. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs analysis found that, just in South Africa alone, 39% of core skills required across all occupations will be different by 2020 as compared to what was needed to perform those roles in 2015 (Future of Jobs in Africa, WEF, 2017). We need a mindset revolution and a multi-pronged partnership across three key stakeholder groups—educational institutions, employers, and university graduates to adequately prepare for the future of African jobs.

Employers need to wade into corridors of learning—and actively take part in creating the workforce of the future. Rather than expecting candidates to arrive polished at their desk, employers will have to take a developmental approach and coach and prepare candidates to take up the jobs that the need to fuel their own growth. Higher education needs to focus on education for employability—the theme of the three-day “Baraza” that Africa Careers Network is hosting in Nairobi in partnership with Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program between July 6-8. Without developing concrete skills for employment, the university degree is fast proving an outdated credentialing mechanism. Further, higher education needs to emphasize entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills training—without a wage job, graduates of tertiary institutions need to know how to start enterprises and create jobs themselves. Employment and Entrepreneurship will have to become two sides of the same coin, forging a new currency in Africa’s uncertain economic future.  And finally, university students and job-seekers will need to completely reimagine what it means to be a participant in the 21st century economy. Rather than waiting for the “perfect job” they will have to architect their own pathways, that will have to involve both formal employment as well as entrepreneurship—otherwise, they will be forced to compete for too few resources rather than generating their own.

Without a revolution in our attitudes towards employment—and without re-imagining possibilities and pathways outside traditional norms, the millions of job seekers will continue to be disappointed in their jobless futures.

This blog is written by Sharmi Surianarain, Vice President of Lifelong Engagement at ALA. Read her profile here.

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