8 - 12 November 2021
Upskilling Digital Skills and the Future of Work in Africa
Investment in people and skills is paramount to propel Africa to the forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. African countries will need an increase in digital skills through education, training, and development initiatives. Upskilling will empower Africans with the knowledge and skills required to participate in a global economy shaped by rapid technological advances such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, machine learning, cognitive computing, and nanotechnology. These changes will impact every industry worldwide, particularly manufacturing and other labor-intensive industries, which often provide jobs for low-to semi-skilled workers. The Future of Work Forum held recently by the International Labor Organization (ILO) took place at UNESCO headquarters on March 30th brought together labor ministers from 27 countries and representatives from the UN, World Bank, and private sector to set out a plan of action.
Future-of Work development programs must recognize that increasing the availability of skills alone does not necessarily equip people for the jobs on offer in an increasingly digital world. They know that digital changes will require workers to be more adaptable and fluid in their approach to work and will need to continuously re-skill throughout their careers. Tech skills are a growing requirement for young people entering the job market. Technology is necessary to improve educational opportunities at all levels; training adults both employed or looking for work across various sectors and creating more flexible education options through open learning platforms is essential. These skills equip people with transferable skills to move seamlessly between jobs while providing employability support for youth transitioning to the world of work.
Talent and Skill Development
The need for Future of Work skills development programs is vital in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the World Bank's 2018 Doing Business report, countries rank higher on "ease of doing business" if they have a larger share of their workforce employed in formal jobs. The "ease of doing business" depends on whether employers prioritize creating legal contract jobs with the government. Future Skills Development efforts will have to consider what types of jobs are available and who will be primarily impacted by these changes, affecting workers across all levels, experience, age groups, and sectors.
Africa needs Future Skills programs because innovation represents an opportunity for African countries to leapfrog many developed nations regarding job creation. Africa's competitive advantage draws upon the largest talent pool globally because of its youthful population, which grew up with mobile phones and social media access. Future Skills Development can help African countries create jobs by helping small businesses use technology more effectively or by digitizing economies in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, where many people work outside formal employment structures. New opportunities for entrepreneurship and business growth across sectors, including agribusiness, have vast potential for technology solutions to provide higher yields and better quality products at a lower cost without damaging ecosystems or natural resources. Future Skills Development programs will also inform education policymakers on how students learn best in an increasingly digital environment. Future Skills Development efforts will need to collaborate across education, business, and public sectors to skill-sets for the job pool.
Africa: the Forefront of the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Across Africa, Future of Work development programs is gaining momentum with governments identifying opportunities for growth through technology innovation while building capacities to adapt to these changes. Countries are addressing workforce skills in IT, engineering, and science which provide potential solutions to unemployment among young Africans. Future Skilling programs must consider how many people struggle in informal employment or jobs that don't contribute substantially to their countries' local economies or national development goals. Therefore, Future of Work programs in Africa should also try to improve access for young people living outside cities because they are significantly disadvantaged for job prospects and Future Skills Development. Future of Work programs should also be tailored towards the needs of both business and civil society to meet employers' demand for workers with critical thinking skills, digital literacy, and entrepreneurship; while focusing on empowering adults through soft skills training such as teamwork.
With growing recognition of the importance of Future Skills Development across Africa, governments are taking steps towards cutting red tape. These programs make it easier for people working in informal economies or those living in rural areas to access Future Skills training opportunities. Future Skills Development will need closer collaboration with the private sector especially given the vastness of the challenge ahead as technology continues to disrupt workforces leading to unemployment problems across countries. In addition, Future Skills Development will rely on international cooperation between governments and the private sector to create Future Jobs with Future Skills Development programs for Africa, leveraging technology to stimulate economic growth.
AI Talent and Skill Gap Growth
With Artificial Intelligence (AI), the gap between developed and African countries could become even more significant. The top three countries with the most patents related to AI research are Japan, South Korea, and the United States, together account for almost two-thirds of all applications in this field.
Africa faces a severe shortage of skilled AI workers alongside the continent's limited data. The lack of skilled workers is made more apparent by companies' unwillingness or inability to invest in these technologies and patents for this technology being few on African soil itself. Frustratingly, a large percentage have been filed from outside Africa's borders. With AI, African businesses can take advantage of the global competition that is seeping into their marketplaces. Adopting AI technology will allow them to grow faster and possibly shrink returns as IPs are moved overseas because of talent shortage or uptake on new technologies from abroad.
Human Resource departments in companies large and small in Africa should take cognizance of AI's ability to create a new virtual workforce. Experts have described it as intelligent automation (capable of solving problems and self-learning), which could help solve some significant challenges we face today, such as poverty or unemployment rates that hover around 35%. For us here on the continent to achieve our fourth industrial revolution goal (a fifth if you count agriculture), there needs to be integrated into every facet so people can benefit from diffusion even more than before with the tremendous benefits of AI.
Africa is a continent on the rise, and digital skills training will be critical for many jobs in the coming years. Digital skills are forecasted to surge because of new industrial growth. As mobile devices become more prevalent, education providers must align their offerings accordingly. Young people expect and deserve technology-enabled learning to ensure success in their generation. Policymakers can help by investing money into improving necessary infrastructure while also encouraging collaboration between government entities and businesses.
Africa is a hotbed for innovation and entrepreneurship. Over recent years, the continent has been digitally connecting at an incredible rate, from farmers in Ethiopia checking crop prices on government websites to factory workers of Kenya sharing photos via their smartphones with management. Small business owners use e-commerce platforms such as TradeGecko or Xoom during transaction meetings, while others switch entirely to online banking systems. With easy access to technology and innovation across the continent, the future of work in Africa is evolving. Digital skills in Africa are becoming increasingly commonplace; however, the rate of growing data and technology outpaces the talent.
The digital skills gap in Africa is an enormous problem, and it's hurting the continent as well. According to an IFC study, many jobs will require some tech know-how by 2030, which amounts to 650 million training opportunities with $130 billion potential market value! With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing businesses across all sectors into going digital for survival, this need has never been more critical than now: get trained and embrace digital skills in Africa or get left behind.
Digital skills will become increasingly important in the future. To gain deeper insight into how these can be developed, the IFC and World Bank have researched four African countries: Kenya, Cote d'Ivoire, Nigeria, Rwanda. The preliminary findings show that by 2030, some level (45%) or all jobs could require at least basic skill sets related to connectivity; 45 percent across three other locations (Cote D'Ivoire 35%-40%, Mozambique 25% and 20% for Kenya, respectively).
The Future of Digital Skills in Africa
It is important to note that non-IT sectors are also experiencing a shift in the future of work in Africa. Agribusiness managers should receive training in using financial software and digital marketing tools such as social media platforms. Office workers who will present online need this skill, too. Tourism operators also want knowledge about which technologies are best for their business, like robotics or programmers, to develop site content on top of these programs. Agricultural companies must provide employees with new skills, so they don't get left behind by technology. Many employers have already started providing extensive retraining programs, but more are to be implemented to remain competitive globally.
Government and Higher Education Respond
Higher education institutions should revamp their ICT and engineering courses by offering rapid skills to respond to this growing demand. Scholarships from government initiatives or private scholarships may be provided as incentives for students who want an opportunity with potential in the booming industry of tech jobs that are waiting to complete programs of study.
Government must support access to digital data across the continent. Kenya is ripe for digital skills training across all levels, as it boasts 70% of its population having access to broadband internet. However, Africa's largest market — Nigeria, with 200 million people — faces major infrastructural hurdles that need attention before fulfilling its great potential! For example, only 35 schools out of 100 are connected (and those connections are often intermittent). The power infrastructure needs improvement if we want uninterrupted networks and optimal performance.
The internet is a largely globalized network of invaluable resources for education, communication, and trade. But not everyone has access to the web due in part to cost; a problem found overseas where less than half the population could afford broadband service last year (according to a poll conducted by Pew Research Center, 2017). Only 25% had such high-speed connections in Mozambique, while Cote D'Ivoire's number was below 30%.
Digital skills training is still in its early stages, but we've seen some promising developments. Andela builds remote engineering teams for global technology companies by recruiting top software engineers with expertise across various industries, including tech news startups such as Ubongo or Dropbox, which has opened up more opportunities than ever before. A program like Moringa School trains students to code from all over Africa and the world.
The future of Africa lies in digital skills. With hundreds of millions who will need training or retraining, this continent's growth can be accelerated by mastering these essential technologies, which have an increasingly vital role in determining success on the African scene. The Ethiopian farmer, Kenyan factory worker, and even Rwandan entrepreneur face challenges when they lack proficiency with digital content. Communications tools and social networks platforms empower these workers, allowing them to scale their business globally or operate more efficiently with a local reach. A recent study by UNESCO shows how automation may soon make more jobs obsolete than it creates, putting pressure onto governments everywhere (including Africa) to increase workforce training programs so workers can be competitive in a digital world.
Digital Governance for Africa's Fourth Industrial Revolution
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) announced their latest initiative, the Africa Leading 4th Industrial Revolution. This technical advisory group will help steer it in that direction and make sure all technology is used responsibly for transformation throughout sub-Saharan African countries as they grow together with others across this new era of the industrial revolution.
Even though the vast potential and importance of digitalization across Africa are recognized, development remains low. The problem is notable in two crucial areas — Digital penetration rates and Data governance framework — which will determine Africa CFTA's success with their initiatives to create an e-highway to unite people from different countries to work together in a global economy.
The absence of national and regional data governance frameworks is a genuine problem. The lack of modernizing how countries are governed with information creates major concerns about cybersecurity, privacy violations, and economic damages from lost productivity because they do not have any way to efficiently access or use their valuable resources. Trust is needed for cross-border digital interactions to occur. In such a state, laws must be put into place at the national and regional levels, allay fears related to protecting citizens' constitutional rights, including privacy and data protection.
The United Nations Congress on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reports that many African economies have yet to safeguard digital transactions. And because of countries' varying levels in this area, most adopt disparate rather than harmonized strategies, leading to market fragmentation.
African governments and development institutions must collaborate to ensure the speedy implementation of data governance policies that guarantee trust so Africa's digital economy can be competitive.
Data centers are a growing investment opportunity in Africa
In the past, data centers were at a few geographically dispersed peering points. These "hot spots" included Virginia (US), London and Paris for Europe, Dublin and Frankfurt for the Asia-Pacific region, and Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
Technology has made data collection exponentially more complex, but the existing model is no longer viable. Cloud-based service providers are now looking to be closer to population centers, enabling them to deliver sophisticated services promptly while also reducing transit costs for both their customers and themselves. However, it should be noted that many countries with low broadband penetration have been adopting Data Sovereignty laws which means new data centers need to be in Africa instead of America or Europe. Creating data centers within the countries of origin will often provide generous tax breaks on investment, which will promote these locations as the hubs of innovation.
The IXcellerate CEO Guy Willner believes we'll see an increasing number of international companies storing enterprise-level information within Africa because of its lower cost/performance ratio when compared against other regions.
As the demand for data centers grows, international investors are increasingly eager to secure lucrative deals. This is true in Africa, where private sector funds come from local and foreign sources who recognize the tremendous investment potential in the 4IR.
Case in point, the private sector is investing in data centers and cloud computing. For example, Actis recently made a US$250 million investment to expand its operations. Boston-based Berkshire Partners acquired stake Teraco Data Environments for Africa's largest data center, which Powers much of the Cloud Compute on South African Properties with Aim To Doubling Capacity From 30MW To 60 MW Over Next Few Years. Other notable mentions include Liquid Telecoms Africa Data Centre earmarked $1 billion towards expansion across Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, and Morocco.
Growing competition between emerging powers such as China and countries with longer-standing economic ties to Africa are expected to further open this sector for lucrative investments, with Chinese capital likely debuting soon.
The Future of Work in Africa
The future of work in Africa will depend significantly on both national and regional contextual factors. Innovators have a vital role to play by responding creatively with regards challenges, including those relating skills or employment pathways, while also ensuring access to social protection and building an ecosystem for innovation so that it can scale its reach across this vast continent. Supporting digital skills in Africa across all industry sectors will create a healthy and wealthy economy for all.