Preparing for tomorrow’s employment: a revolution of mentalities is needed

Marrakech, 29 March 2019 (ECA) - Are Africa's education systems adapted to the needs of tomorrow? The answer is probably no, presently. While Africa is not the only region in the world that has to review its strategies or face the loss of more than one out of ten existing jobs to the digital revolution, it is now necessary for African decision makers to completely reconsider the logic of current education and vocational training systems, and even dare to experiment in order, to increase job seekers’ chances of meeting the requirements of tomorrow's job descriptions.

A high-level panel met on Sunday 24 March in Marrakech, on the sidelines of the ECA 52nd Session and Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, to discuss the issue of tomorrow's workforce planning in Africa, in a side event entitled : “Planning for the workforce of tomorrow: Is Africa ready?”.

The world is now faced with four phenomena that must be taken into account: 1) While countries are experiencing relatively heavy economic stagnation, their economies are being asked to grow three times faster to create more jobs; 2) Many countries are aging while limiting their migration policy; 3) We are witnessing an "uberization" of the economy, with the disruption of working links by new technologies; and last but not least, 4) In the face of environmental change, we have to make a sustainable use of resources while leaving no one behind, said Lilia Hachem Naas, Director of the ECA Office in North Africa.

In this adverse environment where more than sixty percent of the African population is under 25 and where 10 to 15 million young people enter the region’s job market every year, Africa must acknowledge the limits of its educational systems. "Many of us in Africa have had long colonial experiences. The educational systems were not designed to develop our economies," said Yonov Frederick Agah, Deputy Director General of the WTO, "Now we have graduates without knowledge and graduates with no skills. We need to go back to the drawing board and take into account the rising importance of e-commerce".

"Fourteen percent of global jobs are currently threatened by digitization and automation. As for the countries who will not lose employment, they will have to adapt the content of 31% of jobs," added Mubarak Lô, Director General of the Senegal Economic Prospective Bureau (BEP). "We are currently faced with threats and opportunities. In 2050, young people will be in Africa and this is where markets will develop, but if Africa is not prepared for the digital revolution, FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) will go elsewhere," he warned, calling on the region to anticipate the inevitable change.

Indeed, the digital revolution has led to the emergence of new economic sectors such as digital intelligence, the Internet of things, big data, digital clouds and many other concepts and sectors that were not known to the general public ten years ago. As for companies such as Alibaba and Uber at the global level or like M-Pesa and Jumia in Africa, they are currently dominating stock markets and employing thousands of people around the world when they did not even exist before the turn of the century.

Other sectors are evolving rapidly alongside the digital explosion. They include aeronautics, genetics, space technologies, biotechnologies or renewable energy. Finally, even trades that are expected to make it through, such as catering, will have to be reorganized in the light of new technologies. These transformations will have a decisive impact on the skills required of future job seekers.

All these changes demand that we reflect on the relevance of our education systems and their ability to produce “employable” people, said Karima Bounemra Ben Soltane, Director of the African Institute for Economic Development and Planning (IDEP). While traditional training tends to be rather technical, the new skills in demand include more soft skills, creativity, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision-making skills, greater service orientation and cognitive flexibility, she added.

However, while experts have agreed on the need to review education systems, the nature of required reforms is yet to be clarified. “It’s about core streaming employment in all policies: employment should not be a by effect of economic growth, but should be a part of it," said Peter Van Rooij, ILO Deputy Regional Director for Africa.

African countries are currently confronted with a complex issue whose answer is unknown. Decision makers must therefore accept to take risks and experiment different options, said Karim El Aynaoui, Executive Director of the Policy Center for the New South. According to El Aynaoui, current changes are questioning the very way in which national policies have been designed so far as education systems have been heavily regulated since the Second World War. "We should create spaces to experiment on public policies, because we do not know [the solution] and we have to accept that we don’t know," he added, stressing the need for a decentralized approach to the issue and expressing his concern over the risks for Africa if its decision makers are too slow in changing their way of thinking.

“It’s a complete revolution of the mindset of how we manage public policies and implement them. Having said that, agriculture and manufacturing will most likely continue in Africa while other forces are emerging elsewhere. The day you will print your shoes at home with a 3D printer is not here yet”, he acknowledged.

Indeed, Africa still has many challenges to overcome before it can compete with industrialized countries in the digital world. Obstacles on its way include the limited literacy rate, which reduces the capacity of the available workforce, and low access to computers, at a time when many schools are not connected. Hence the need for the region to start with attainable steps while seeking to leapfrog whenever possible. "At UNIDO, we encourage countries to think about modern industrial policies, which consider the roles of both the public and the private sector. These are industrial policies that first build on our usual comparative advantages and incorporate dynamic benefits," said Victor Djemba, Director of the UNIDO Africa Department, which seeks to promote inclusive and sustainable industrial development.

The debate on “Planning for the workforce of tomorrow: Is Africa ready?” was held in preparation for IDEP's new training cycle on emerging issues, which aims to increase African countries’ ability to anticipate their future needs. This event was organized in collaboration with the ECA Office for North Africa, which specializes in employment issues, the Office of the High Commissioner for Planning of the Kingdom of Morocco and the Policy Center for the New South.

Communication Team
Economic Commission for Africa
Office for North Africa
Tel: +212 (0) 537 548 749