Africa is projected to experience a population growth of 1.3 billion people by 2050. An estimated 15 to 20 million increasingly well-educated young people are expected to join the African workforce every year for the next three decades. Delivering quality jobs to match in order to fully leverage on the continent’s demographic opportunity is set to be one of Africa’s defining challenges over the coming years. Many fear this relentless population pressure threatens to heighten youth underemployment and political instability. This blog explains how Africa can harness the demographic dividend by enhancing the skills needed to prepare the youth for the digital economy and the future of work.
First, with the fourth industrial revolution, the future of work is likely to be characterized by major disruptions to labour markets, growth in wholly new occupations, new ways of organizing and coordinating work, new skills requirement in all jobs and new tools to augment workers’ capabilities. To leave no-one behind, a multi-stakeholder approach becomes urgent to connect the dots for an enabling environment where African youth can thrive in and drive the global digital economic trends of the future. Opening the doors for the youth will entail investing more in connectivity, research and design, and providing access to quality comprehensive education. Professional training is urgently needed in key areas of the digital economy like coding, artificial intelligence, robotics and cyber security.
Second, it looks like technology is going to create a set of new opportunities in the gig economy: shared-ride drivers, homestay hosts, e-commerce logistics, e-commerce sellers, and small-scale e-commerce producers. Therefore, the arrival and penetration of new technology should be seen as extremely advantageous factors that will have a positive impact on the future of work and employment. It should be easy for youths especially in underserved communities, such as those in fragile and conflict affected states to access tablet-based/device-based education. Portable instant classrooms can be created which can be ‘digital schools in a box’ developed for regions where internet connectivity is unreliable or non-existent.
Third, to solve the global tech talent shortage, Africa’s youth can also be empowered with coding tools and skills they need to thrive in the 21st century digital workforce and further Africa’s development. By 2050 as per the demographic pyramid, developed countries will consist of a large base of elderly adults beyond working age. African countries can invest in most talented software engineers to help global companies solve the technical talent shortage and build high-performing distributed engineering teams.
The digital transformation implies disruptive changes to business models across sectors thereby affecting the nature of jobs and the skills young people need to successfully enter the labour market. Overall, to ensure Africa’s youth are well prepared for the digital economy and the future of work, African countries must put in place policies and strategies that: strengthen technological and entrepreneurial skills; increase youth’s access to financial services; increase access to business advisory services and credit facilities as well as promote youth participation in political and economic decision-making processes.