Africa’s youth are missing out on much-needed employment opportunities because they lack the right skills, according to a new study into the innovation, science and technology requirements needed to push through the continent’s transformation agenda.
With the biggest youth population in the world and an estimated 10 to 15 million young people joining Africa’s labour market every year, African governments are preoccupied with ensuring that the creation of decent jobs matches the high levels of population growth.
To that end, it is hoped that Africa’s Agenda 2063 – the African Union’s blueprint for the continent’s socio-economic transformation – coupled the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will provide a lasting solution to the scourge of poverty and hunger as well as gender and wealth inequality in Africa.
But a study – Africa’s Critical Technical – by the Zimbabwe-based African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) shows that the continent’s education system is simply not equipped for the task ahead.
Only 28 per cent of students in Africa are enrolled in the so-called STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), with the majority of students studying social sciences.
Given that foreign direct investment is producing employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in sectors such as agriculture, green energy, mining, healthcare and manufacturing, there is a clear disparity between the skills young graduates possess and the skills Africa’s employers need.
According to the ACBF report, most schools and universities simply do not specialise in STEM subjects and only a small number of Africa’s students are able to travel outside of the continent to go to school or university.
As a result many African countries have to resort to importing foreign expatriate workers who have the skills required by the labour market.
“Capacity remains the missing link in solving the challenges in skill creation in Africa,” ACBF executive secretary Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie told Equal Times, adding that most African countries do not seem to have accessible data sets and systems to provide information on the numbers of professionals trained in critical and sector-specific skills areas. “It is only once these skills have been built that Africans can truly be in the driving seat”.
The ACBF report reveals the true impact of Africa’s skills deficit with stark data. For example, Africa currently has just 35 engineers per one million people compared to 168 engineers for Brazil, 2,457 for the European Union and 4,103 for the United States.
Healthcare is another area where the impact of this skills shortage is seriously felt.
“The continent has only 2 per cent of global doctors though it bears around 24 per cent of the global burden of diseases,” says the report.
Furthermore, the continent accounts for less than 1.5 per cent of all international scientific journals publications, a percentage that has been declining steeply in recent decades.
“This is a source of concern for sharing knowledge on what works or doesn’t, so as to shape the formulation of policy and development programs,” notes the report.
Professor Burton Mwamila, vice chancellor of the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology in Tanzania told Equal Times that training institutions in Africa should work closely to develop courses that reflect the needs of African society while focusing on research. “Training institutions should also enroll more graduates into courses that are innovative and entrepreneurial,” he said.
Professor Mama Ouattara, director of CIRES, the Ivoirian Centre for Economic and Social Research based in Abidjan, believes that the private sector must play its part in formulating new policies on human capital and helping to finance research and innovation.
“Other than just creating more institutions offering the same courses, African countries should create research pools where certain countries specialise in certain courses or areas,” she said to Equal Times.
“This will not only enhance communication among countries and dissemination of knowledge, but it will also strengthen the capacity of academic institutions.”
The report proposes that training institutions should invest massively in STEM subjects and vocational skills, while mobilising the capacity of the African diaspora to support the continent’s development agenda.
At last month’s World Economic Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, the link between digital technology and the alleviation of youth unemployment dominated the discussions.
At the three-day forum, which carried the theme Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, told reporters from Rwanda’s New Times that “turning Africa’s demographic asset into an economic dividend” is one of the continent’s biggest challenges.
“Between now and 2050 or 2030, we are going to be adding literally 500, 000 young people between the age of 15 and 24 to the population. If we don’t create jobs for them, it will heighten socio-economic and political fragility of the continent,” he said.