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.
These 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 I wrote earlier in this article, the workplace as we know it is undergoing a tectonic shift. Digital technology has invaded every sector ensuring that “the jobs dominating the labor market now will definitely not be the same jobs dominating the market in 2026.”
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?
Each year, we have loads of new technology entering into the workplace, disrupting and speeding up processes, making things faster and more efficient.
Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough skilled workers on the continent to engage and manage this technology properly.
In time, these advancements will get cheaper, more sophisticated, and then comes the kicker – who is going to manage them? If history has taught us anything, the answer is “not Africans”.
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.
However, now we have the blessing of foresight to know that the evolution of the workplace is inevitable. We have an idea of where things are headed, the kind of skills which will be in demand; so the question African business leaders need to ask is, how can employees be equipped with the skills and tools they need to be really useful in future work? How can we prepare them better to run, manage and scale our businesses 10 – 15 years from 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.
Training and equipping your employees is not a new concept! Take for example, WorkFusion, a software solution provider with expertise in automation to help organisations digitize their processes through machine learning. WorkFusion tackles the future head on by preparing its employees as well as other organisations with the technical skills they need to automate their business processes through the integration of the very best of machine learning techniques and programs.
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.
Training employees is not only a good idea, it is also great business move. How else does an organisation position itself as an industry leader/influencer if not by teaching and equipping the rest of the industry with the skills that will run the workplace of the future? WorkFusion has been able to achieve that by building a training academy and offering certifications to stakeholders in the artificial intelligence and automation industry.
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).
In short, it is unsustainable.
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 Hotel.ng 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.
Africa is faced with a rare opportunity.
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.