While some complain of the difficulty in finding a job, sectors such as construction, manufacturing, digital economy, transport, banking, medical care and engineering continue to need skilled candidates, says Anne-Elvire Esmel, a strategic communications officer with the
AfroChampions Initiative, which promotes Africa’s homegrown companies. The mismatch between labour market needs and the skills of many graduates in Africa is underscored by the Kenyan government’s recent launch of the “Competency-Based Curriculum,” which integrates digital technologies to teach students inclined toward information and communications technology the skills they’ll need to enter the digital apps industry that is expanding rapidly in the country.
Esmel would like countries to develop “more theoretical courses adapted to problem solving with regards to economic challenges, providing graduates with practical skills for the labour market and investing in STEM - sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics - which is not sufficiently done at present.” Her organization proposes an Africa-focused infrastructure plan that uses local skills to implement projects. “We have massive infrastructure needs and ought to provide opportunities to a huge young population over the next decade,” Esmel says. She stresses the need for competent artisans and technicians in the building and construction industry and in power and energy plants.
The snag, however, is that “technical vocational education and training [TVET] is stigmatized as a second-rate learning track, despite its capacity to promote the acquisition and development of entrepreneurial and innovative skills for self-employment,” laments Chatterjee.
With adequate allocation of resources, he says “modernizing teaching and learning facilities in TVET institutions, as well as training and continuous professional development of TVET teachers” will be possible. Overall, sub-Saharan Africa spends 5% of its GDP on education. In 2015, in Incheon, South Korea, the World Education Forum adopted a declaration that requires countries to commit 4%–6% of their GDP or 15%–20% of their public expenditures to education. UNESCO organised the forum with support of other UN entities and the World Bank.
A recent report shows Zimbabwe, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Senegal have met or surpassed the 6%-of-GDP target, while South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Uganda and Madagascar, among others, spend less than 2.5% of their GDP on education.Another concern is that a high proportion of education spending (an average of 85%) is recurrent,including 56% expended on wages.
Kenya’s former Cabinet Secretary for Education, Amina Mohammed, is less critical of Africa’s education systems, saying, “Most education systems have inbuilt skill development curricula. That is why over the years most African countries have developed human capital that
is driving development agenda.” In an interview with Africa Renewal, Mohammed said, “Unemployment itself is not a function of the education systems and skills alone. There are many other factors that lead to unemployment, ranging from sociopolitical stability, economic structures, and global dynamics, together with the general economic growth of the countries.”
Africa needs job creators
Mohammed suggests Africa mostly needs job creators - namely entrepreneurs. “We need African Silicon Valleys sprouting across the continent. Economies that thrive around the world are built on the foundation of an enabling environment for entrepreneurship to flourish. “Global multinationals such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and WhatsApp employ hundreds of thousands of people, directly and indirectly,” adds Mohammed. Many are looking forward to an African Continental Free Trade Area, a single pan-African market for goods and services expected to go into force in the coming months, which will enable skilled young Africans to move freely within markets in search of jobs.
Still, Aya Chebbi, the AU’s youth envoy, says that without the right skills, the youth may reap little from the continent’s economic integration. She echoes others calling for the continent’s education curricula to be updated to align with the current labour market.
Chebbi says young people can hone their entrepreneurial skills if they focus on science, technology, engineering, entrepreneurship and mathematics and have access to on-the-job training. In December 2018, Morocco hosted the first African Forum on Vocational Training. The aim was to create a model of partnership among African countries to promote access to vocational training for youth. The forum signaled that African countries are attaching increasing importance to vocational training.
The private sector must complement governments’ efforts, advises Esmel. Agbor agrees: “The private sector needs to be strongly linked to the education and training systems to meet labour market needs.” He encourages companies to offer young people apprenticeships, internships, mentorships and even skills certification program