Developing youth skills to grow Africa’s digital economies

To become more competitive and follow the fast pace of technological innovation globally, developing economies need to re-skill their workforce with the skills for the jobs of the future. Where does Africa’s developing economies fit into this trajectory?

University of Ghana students listen to their political science professor, Dr. Evans Aggrey-Darkoh in Accra, Ghana. CREDIT: Dominic Chavez/World Bank

This post is the seventh in a blog series published in 2019 in the context of a collaboration between the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE)

Today, it is becoming increasingly important for developing economies to adapt to the rapidly changing skills landscape. To become more competitive and follow the fast pace of technological innovation globally, developing economies need to re-skill their workforce with the skills for the jobs of the future.

Nevertheless, is this optimistic account of a future of high-skilled work for all justified? Where does Africa’s developing economies fit into this trajectory?

African digitally-driven economies

Modern economies are transforming from agricultural and industrial economies to information and knowledge-based economies. Such rapid transformation has had significant impact on social, economic, political and cultural development across the world.

For such development and growth, information and communication technology (ICT) is seen as both a driver and an enabler towards establishing and developing the various sectors that contribute to stronger, more developed and richer societies. Africa is on a journey of transformation towards information and knowledge societies.

The use of ICT systems will revolutionize the growth and management of the under-developed agricultural sector across Africa and make it an attractive career option for young people. 

Challenges of ICT in Africa often relate to a lack of human and financial resources, which translate into inadequate and insufficient skills supply and skills gaps as well as inadequate infrastructure and communication platforms. To close this digital divide with the developed world, Africa must lower the cost of capital, provide reliable energy resources and raise the pace of digitization and the provision of high-speed internet.

The future of jobs in Africa

Africa must match today's skills to tomorrow's jobs. With more than 60% of its population under the age of 25, sub-Saharan Africa is the world’s youngest region. By 2030, the continent’s working-age population is set to increase by two-thirds, from 370 million adults in 2010 to over 600 million in 2030.

At current rates, 15 to 20 million increasingly well-educated young people are expected to join the continent’s workforce every year until 2030. This poses a challenge to governments and businesses: how can they make the most of the talent of this up-and-coming generation as well as those under-educated and under-skilled youth who outnumber those with post-secondary education?

Within the – still small – pool of tertiary-educated Africans exists a wide range of specializations: 16% of this group have studied engineering, manufacturing and construction; 11% ICT and 11% natural sciences, mathematics and statistics.

Fast-growing professions on the continent include food technologists, 3D designers and data collection and analysis workers, as well as people working in healthcare and education. The digital media-enabled creative and cultural industries offer huge opportunities for employment. Strong demand for STEM and ICT skills already exists across a wide range of sectors.

The future of skills in Africa

In unpacking the different skills needs across types of tasks, core skills that need to be developed include:

  • job-neutral digital skills
  • job-specific digital skills
  • job-neutral soft skills such as communication, management, analytical and critical thinking and creativity.

Ancillary skills that can support the digital economy include physical skills that require dexterity and socio-emotional and interpersonal skills for low-skilled service and sales occupations.

The digital economy core skills nexus

The 2016 World Economic Forum Report finds that the percentage of jobs requiring cognitive abilities as a core skill is expected to rise to 15%, from a current level of 11%. Similarly, there are going to be changes in skills requirement within a job. For instance, among all the jobs requiring cognitive abilities as part of their core skill sets, 52% of the jobs do not have such requirements now and are expected to have increasing demand of cognitive abilities by 2020. As per the report, cognitive abilities, system skills (i.e. evaluation and analysis of systems) and complex problem-solving skills are expected to be the top three skills demanded in the future.

Clearly, education and training systems, at all levels, must play central roles in providing the new skills required to drive the development of African knowledge economies. 

Urgent curricula design and developments are required to reflect current employer-led consensus that a strong emphasis must be placed on creativity, teamwork, employability, self-employment, and lifelong learning. 

National technical and vocational education and training (TVET) systems require comprehensive reforms and increased funding to allow for curriculum reforms, tutor trainings and a wide range of digital equipment.

Some African governments are already focusing on TVET and technical and vocational skills development (TVSD) reforms as the key route to youth employment, and have earmarked additional funding for the sector. Increasingly, young people are looking to TVET/TVSD to get the technical skills and entrepreneurial know-how they need to launch start-ups.      

The key role of the Global e-Schools & Communities Initiative

The Global e-Schools & Communities Initiative (GeSCI) is an international non-profit, non-governmental organization, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, that works with developing country governments and state agencies to integrate ICT in education, science, technology and innovation systems through professional, institutional and technical capacity building.

In addition, GeSCI has adopted the approach of integrating 21st century skills at school, vocational and tertiary levels and has sought to improve the capacities of youth and children to engage in the digital economy.

In the last few years, GESCI has pioneered a new model for digitally driven skills and entrepreneurship for youth, which can be scaled across Africa. The original focus of using “living lab” to empower youth in the digital creative media is now being developed with partners as an accredited, internationally recognized certificate in animation and visual effects for disadvantaged youth in refugee camps and host communities.

The model is a 9 to 12-month digital training hub that provides a mix of expert tuition and skills development to industry standards in three areas: animation, digital games and apps, and music design and production.

Using industry mentors and support, a cohort of up to 40 young entrepreneurs collaborate, leading to the formation of start-ups. The model allows one to develop blueprints and models for scaling and applications in other ICT-based skills environments. Incorporation of the living lab methodology and outcomes from policy fora are used to refine the model.

GESCI has also developed an e-readiness system assessment tool for the education sector that helps countries to assess their enabling environment, their approaches to school management of ICT integration, teacher development, integration of ICT in the curriculum, community outreach and the necessary levels of ICT infrastructure and equipment for successful integration. Additionally, we have developed a tool that allows government to estimate various scenarios of the likely purchase and roll-out costs of ICT integration in education depending on the type of equipment and infrastructure proposed.

Finally, as an international non-governmental organization (INGO), GESCI’s approach, in developing and trialing new whole school digitally - driven models for teaching and learning as well as new digital skills for employment programs, is to provide Governments with realistic, scalable and sustainable models for reforms of education and training systems.