Are African Business Leaders Doing Enough To Prepare Employees For Future Work?

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While population growth determines the socio-economic prospects of a country, the age structure of the nation is just as crucial.

By 2025, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will be home to almost a quarter of the global population aged 24 and below. And by 2035, SSA’s population will become the youngest in the world boasting an enormous number of working-age individuals aged 15 to 64.

This isn’t news though. Several articles have thrown the spotlight on this very issue — Africa’s growing youthful population — explaining the advantage that such a resource affords.

However, a highly unskilled workforce, no matter how young, is a liability, not an asset. Unless we can equip these youths with the right training, Africa’s youthful population is a ticking time-bomb.

As we enter into the fourth industrial revolution, emerging technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence and automation have already begun tweaking and turning the workplace upside down.

Futurists have predicted the different ways the workplace of the future will evolve — a workforce dominated by freelancers and contractors, further rise and global diffusion of the gig economy, mobile and agile office spaces and the emergence of super, mega-corporations who will be more powerful and larger than some national economies.

Where is Africa in all this?

But where is Africa in the middle of this conversation? Shouldn’t we be preparing for the future? What kind of seeds should we be planting now to improve the chances for the youth in the next decade and beyond?

Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough skilled workers on the continent to engage and manage this technology properly.

Flashback to the time when GSM technology entered into the African market. The lack of local technical expertise forced telecoms companies like MTN, Econet and Vodafone to recruit from Europe and Asia. These expats cost the companies a hefty buck back then and they still do now.

Most employers you meet will tell you how hard it is to find talent in African markets. HR executives will tell you it is an exercise in patience and longsuffering, and it isn’t difficult to decipher the reason — the broken educational system and the strong disconnect between academia and private enterprise are primary factors.

In this article, Edmund Olotu argues that rather than bemoan the ailing educational system, employers and other interested stakeholders can be proactive in developing talent. It is expensive, yes, but so is recruiting from Beirut and Dubai.

This line of thinking is inclusive and long term. Beyond simply sending out a few employees to obtain training from offshore schools and training centers, business leaders can look towards establishing learning centers within their industry.

This will have a positive effect not only on the bottom line for employers but for their respective industries and ecosystems. The more skilled workers there are in the ecosystem, the larger the pool of talent employers have to draw from. The larger the pool, the more the competition and the less expensive talent is to acquire.

Let’s also ask ourselves, if employers refuse to train employees, what will happen? I’ll tell you. For one, it will become very difficult and expensive to fill up roles and job vacancies. Employers will have to look outside the continent, bringing in expats, which inadvertently gives the big corporations the advantage.

It is not sustainable.

However, there are some business and industry leaders here in Africa who are actively vying to solve this problem, mostly in the private sector. There are a few training programs where youths acquire skills in robotics, mobile development, programming and web development among several others. Mark Essien’s runs a quarterly internship for programmers every year and Andela’s business model is built on recruiting and training noob developers, turning them into world-class software engineers.

But considering Africa’s over 1.2 billion population, and ~ 200 million youths, these efforts need to be replicated fast. We need scaling up. We need more stakeholders investing in the future of the African workforce.

For once, we know where the future is headed. The question is, how do we plan to take advantage of this opportunity? Are we aware of the incredible potentials of a properly skilled workforce conversant in the technologies of the future?

Do we care?

If we don’t start building interventions today, the fairytale narrative about Africa’s rising and its fast-growing youthful population may not have a happy ending.

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