Soaring youth unemployment poses one of the most important challenges for today’s economies, both in developed and developing countries.
According to the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), an economic development programme of the African Union, about 60 percent of Africa’s unemployed are under the age of 25, a situation which disproportionately affects women.
Ensuring job opportunities and good quality education are essential requisites to achieving poverty eradication, social security, political stability and sustainable development.
Among the complex reasons surrounding unemployment in Africa, and particularly the sub-Saharan region, lack of skills figures high on the list.
But Africa is not alone in the skills gap: By 2030 the demand for a skilled workforce will exceed supply worldwide, possibly resulting in an overall global talent shortage of more than 85.2 million people, according to U.S.-based consulting firm Korn Ferry.
“The gap between the skills of the current workforce and the skills businesses need to achieve their growth plans is widening,” Gerald Seegers, director of Human Resource Services at PwC Southern Africa, said in a market research report. “Despite rising business confidence equating to more jobs, organisations are struggling to find the right people to fill these positions.”
A global PwC survey of more than 1,300 CEOs in 68 countries found that CEOs in Africa (96 percent), the South East nations (90 percent) and in particular South Africa (87 percent) are most concerned about the lack of skills – despite the fact that half of the organisations surveyed aim to hire again.
Of these organisations, technology and engineering firms are struggling the most with the shortage of skilled employees.
“Half of CEOs plan to hire more people in the next 12 months, meaning competition for talent will be intense at the same time as the battleground has been redrawn,” Seegers said. “Business leaders are looking for people with a far wider range of skills than ever before. Gone are the days of life-time careers; chameleon-like employees who apply their skills whenever and wherever they’re needed are now in high demand.”
Moustapha Kamal Gueye, head of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Green Jobs Programme, agrees that there has been a significant skills shift in the current work landscape.
“Emphasis must be put on lifelong learning, as a key difference from traditional education and training systems, as skills required today may become obsolete for tomorrow’s jobs,” he told news outlet CGTN Africa.
Workers, and particularly young people, must possess foundational skills that can be applied in different fields and practices.
Some employers go as far as prioritising skills over experience. That’s the case of Facebook, where its vice president of human resources, Janelle Gale, says that “skills really matter the most” and encourages applicants to apply for jobs where they have the relevant skills, even if they lack experience.
Which are the most in-demand skills across sub-Saharan Africa?
The range of skills most sought after by employers in sub-Saharan Africa is directly affected by a growing use of ICT.
Although in-demand skills vary from country to country and are affected by socioeconomic and political regional and national considerations, there seems to be a common pattern across the continent as a whole.
The World Economic Forum foresees strong demand for workers who can combine digital and STEM skills with more traditional knowledge. For example, business operations data analysts and digital-mechanical engineers (engineers who use analytics to improve designs) are sought-after since they blend a strong knowledge of their industry with the most recent analytical tools to quickly adapt business strategies.
Other in-demand skills include search engine optimisation (SEO) and digital marketing competencies, which can help companies grow their web presence and drive traffic.
For professionals working in the technology sector, experience in machine learning and artificial intelligence is highly valued by employers across all industries.
Finally, software development and project financial planning have also become highly valued skill sets in different kinds of business activities and organisations.
Africa addresses skills gap
There are a numerous initiatives in place aimed at bridging the skills gap in sub-Saharan Africa.
In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced a programme to introduce subjects such as coding and data analytics at a primary school level to prepare young people “for the jobs of the future.”
Energy company Chevron partnered in 2010 with the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) to fund a partnership initiative to introduce entrepreneurship as a subject in secondary schools in Angola.
Supporting the Government of Angola’s education reform endeavours, the Entrepreneurship Curriculum Programme has the goal of fostering entrepreneurship skills among young people to consolidate a strong and sustainable private sector.
As part of the African Union’s Second Decade of Education (2006-2015), the continental Technical and Vocational Education Training Strategy (TVET) provides recommendations to address policy issues, challenges and gaps that constrain the implementation of initiatives and programmes for skills development on the continent.
TVET was devised to foster skills development and youth employment. In January 2016, African Heads of State and Government also adopted the continental Education Strategy for Africa (CESA 16-25) to deliver better education standards, increase levels of quality employment and scale up entrepreneurship and innovation.
In support of this pledge, the African Union Commission, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), and German organisations financed through the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) developed the Skills Initiative for Africa (SIFA).
The Initiative aims to promote the occupational prospects of young Africans through the support of skills development programmes, close cooperation and investment in vocational training.