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The business perspective to addressing Africa’s skills gap

  • Global Views

Frontier 100 Forum

By Emma Green22 October 2014


A female student at the Windhoek Vocational Training Center, which trains artisans in Namibia. Even with Africa’s economic trajectory, the continent still lacks a pipeline of local talent that can be employed by the growing number of businesses. Photo by: John Hogg / World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

The phrase “Africa is rising” has been used over the past decade to describe the continent’s economic trajectory. The steady growth in foreign direct investment across Africa indicates that businesses and investors around the world see real opportunities to generate profits. However, leading CEOs and business executives agree there is much more involved in uplifting a continent for the long term.

The real indicators of Africa rising must be reflected in its people by the development of the continent’s workforce. The reality is that while great strides are being made in many areas, the continent greatly lacks a pipeline of local talent that can be employed in the ever-increasing number of businesses staking ground across the continent.

With 65 percent of Africa’s total population under 35, the most valuable resource throughout Africa may be its youth population. Over the past 20 years, Africa has accounted for 20 percent of the world’s working-age population growth, and if current trends continue, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts Africa will have the largest global workforce, surpassing China and India. This large group of workers is a blessing if properly leveraged, and a curse if not. And while the African workforce is becoming better educated, much is still to be done to ensure the skills needed by businesses operating in Africa meet the demand.

Opportunities for business collaboration

At the Initiative for Global Development, we surveyed our member CEOs and senior executives operating in Africa to determine the biggest obstacles for expanding operations in Africa. Overwhelmingly, all of them cited a lack of skills in workforces around the continent as the biggest challenge in creating sustainable business operations.

With the launch of IGD’s Leadership, Employability and Skills program, we have identified solutions for companies to mitigate the skills gap and foster an environment where the number of talented, educated workers can keep pace with the working-age population growth on the continent.

Through our discussions with business leaders, we find that local education institutions frequently do not prepare students adequately for the workplace. Many companies believe education providers have a significant role to play in ensuring that necessary soft skills — including decision-making, problem solving and job readiness — are taught to students. While education providers should be thinking about how to best position students for fruitful careers, businesses have the opportunity to take the lead in creating partnerships with education providers to address this challenge.

Embarking in collaborative partnerships with education providers would allow business to reduce the risk and cost of investing in workforce training. Additionally, tackling Africa’s skills gap requires a collective effort where multiple stakeholders are equally invested, sharing both the challenge and the rewards. As with any partnership, however, the foundation must be built upon open communication.

Given the lack of communication between employers and educational institutions, more cross-sector partnerships can be created to address the skills shortage. Enhancing communication between all sides and sharing best practices will help foster action and ensure efforts aren’t wasted.

Actionable solutions for business value

At this week’s Frontier 100 Forum in New York, IGD is identifying a number of opportunities for businesses and other stakeholders to keep Africa’s growth on the right path through the launch of three new projects in its LES program:

1. Cross-sector private companies and education providers have the opportunity to partner with each other for employees to acquire the soft skills needed to succeed in the workplace.

2. Businesses can work collaboratively to equip young people with the behaviors and skills to be effective within the workplace, while simultaneously matching students to specific entry-level positions, creating a larger pool of skilled entry-level talent where applicants can be chosen from and groomed into midlevel and senior positions.

3. To share best practices for training employees to reduce time and costs spent in developing individual programs, CEOs should collaborate to share their knowledge through the creation of a video “handbook” that profiles examples of current programs that have been developed to overcome various skills gaps.

These projects will support business growth by fostering the development of a skilled workforce in Africa and provide guidelines on how to increase productivity, strengthen operations and grow a steady supply of work-ready talent.

To ensure that Africa continues to rise, it’s crucial that businesses fully comprehend and contribute to the development of Africa’s workforce to ensure that investments become fruitful in the short and long term. By tapping into Africa’s booming working-age population and investing in addressing the skills shortage in Africa, companies will create better workforces in the markets in which they operate, attracting new investment, creating a larger talent pool to choose from, and better positioning themselves to grow and expand their businesses on the continent.

Business has gotten off to a great start by ensuring everyone is singing the same tune about Africa’s growth, and now must ensure that everyone is marching to the same beat.

IGD’s Leadership, Employability, and Skills program is being launched at the Frontier 100 Forum — of which Devex is a media partner — on Oct. 21-22 in New York. Follow the Frontier 100 Forum’s conversation by subscribing to the IGD Blog and by using the hashtag #Frontier100 on Twitter and Facebook.

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