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Durban - Africa's youthful population should be looking to skills driven by science and technology education, artificial intelligence, and entrepreneurship if it wants to keep up with global skills demand and meet the needs of companies and consumers in the future.

This was the view of speakers on Thursday at the Barclays Africa and Facebook discussion on "Future Skills" on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Durban. Barclays Africa and Facebook invited leaders across business, academia, and civil society to debate how Africa can optimise its youth dividend and build a globally competitive workforce of the future. 

Kian Gohar, executive director of Singularity University in Silicon Valley, said that Africa needed skills to respond to significant advancements in robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and genomics. 

Gohar said these modern industries are what have transformed the way people live and work, as it could be seen in Silicon Valley. "Africa's future skills should be based on creativity, not productivity. We need virtual models of learning. Augmented reality using smartphones has potential to scale in Africa," Gohar said.

"There is a lot of potential in data economy. Data mining and analysis could offer Africa those type of jobs that are intrinsic to the future model of workplaces." Panellists agreed that in future, some jobs would disappear, others would grow, and jobs that do not even exist today will become commonplace.

As a result, Africa's future workforce will need to align its skillset to keep pace. Barclays Africa group deputy chief executive, Peter Matlare, punted entrepreneurship and jobs exposure to the youth as necessary requirements for youth to be skilled.

Matlare said Africa needed to give young entrepreneurs the right environment to begin, not just funding in order for them to be future job creators. "We have got to think about re-skilling differently. And think about it from a value chain perspective. It is also critical to get more Africans into vocational training and train them in social skills transferable across jobs," Matlare said. 

Judy Dlamini, the co-founder of Future Nation Schools, said education, gender mainstreaming and equity were critical to future skills in the continent. "Our education systems have not caught up with the needs of the 21st Century. We need the type of education that teaches critical thinking skills and be product-based kind of learning. 

People currently in jobs also need re-skilling," Dlamini said. "But we also need to ask ourselves how do we prevent the exclusion of women in building future skills. Men are in charge of the corporate world. We also need men to lead the charge in changing the status quo. Private, public sectors and society all need to work together. We can't have women holding themselves back." 

 - African News Agency (ANA)