By Onyinye Nwaneri
This World Youth Skills Day, let us commit to galvanising a skills revolution that creates a more independent, agile and empowered workforce which can adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of the workplace. Let us reimagine the working environment and what it means to be employed and economically active. The days of the traditional school-to-industry pipeline are behind us, and learning is no longer a finite journey that ends with employment. It is rather an odyssey that has to continue throughout one’s career.
Improving the quality of African graduates entering the workforce is as important as keeping existing workforces up-to-date with the skills requirements of organisations. Innovative practices such as reverse mentorship programs in which junior and senior workers exchange their skills, knowledge and understanding are already challenging old ideas about skills acquisition and work experience.
Work experience requirements in traditional organisations remain a major gatekeeper for graduates wanting to use their skills to participate in the economy. Cultivating work experience should also form part of the higher education and training experience, skills training should be an integral part of any organisation’s daily operations.
In the post-pandemic ethos of the 21st century, we are no-longer required to only focus on traditional forms of employment and economic activity. Current students and those of the future have a myriad of options available to them, outside of traditional employment, especially as Covid-19 has normalised the idea of remote working and fully virtual workspaces.
This is the era where Africa should be producing more consultants, freelancers and entrepreneurs rather than focusing on providing existing organisations with employees. So as we move to optimise the skills for the digital age, we should also be empowering young people to get the most of those skills within and outside the confines of traditional employment.
This is a charge that needs to be taken up in higher education programs. Universities, colleges, TVET colleges and training/skills development organisations need to create well-rounded and independent graduates who are not dependent on the traditional school-to-industry pipeline. This could also open up young African graduates to a whole world of employment and work opportunities outside of Africa as well, making young African graduates better positioned to take part in the global economy.
According to a November 2020 report: Mapping of Digital and ICT roles demand in South Africa commissioned by Harambee, many South African organisations do not have a clear understanding of their current and future digital skills requirements. This is further exacerbated by archaic and disparate viewpoints of the functions and roles of human resources (HR), IT and operations executives in highly digitised and technology-enabled work environments.
One of the key challenges for South African employers highlighted in the report is the dire shortage of digital and ICT skills and a lack of available digital talent pipelines.
Post-Pandemic skills demand
According to Linkedin's Top Trending Jobs data analysis in the first six months of 2021, ICT related skills are still the most sought after by employers, followed by skills in finance, sales and education. The high unemployment rate in the country is not just a product of an ailing economy, but also a higher education and skills development system that is not producing graduates which match the particular skills supply and demand situation in the country. But this alone, won’t solve the discrepancy between the needs of organisations and the growing unemployment rate in the country.
A recent report by the International Labour Organisation highlights the growing role of informal employment among highly skilled individuals in challenging and redefining the role of skilled labour in developing economies. This highlights the need for creating highly skilled African graduates who can compete in this space as part of combating unemployment and inequality.
According to the ILO report which focused on Brics countries, the informal economy is seeing an influx of high –skilled qualified youths, mostly women, engaged as workers in the rapidly growing platform economy, but without proper labour contracts and social protection coverage. Collaborative efforts to regulate this growing sect of informal employment could greatly improve its potential as an economic game changer in Africa.
As the report’s recommendations suggest, there is a case to be made for countries to undertake a systematic review of how each country supports informal work and enterprises using methods best suited for that country’s economic landscape. We believe this should begin at the level of higher education and skills training, where syllabi can be adapted to include exposure to industry in more meaningful and innovative ways.
World Youth Skills Day 2021 is themed around adapting technical and vocational skills providers for the digitalised post-pandemic era. This year, we are also celebrating the creativity and resilience of youth in times of rapid change and strife.
Afrika Tikkun Services calls upon all organisations and institutions concerned with the development of young people to collaborate in these efforts and bring together the unwavering resilience and creativity of young people with the unlimited resource pool which can be created by a collective effort to invest in the potential of young skilled African graduates.
One cannot overstate the importance and power of a skilled young person in disadvantaged communities the world over. These are the future employers, leaders and planners who will eventually transform developing countries into thriving economies.