Skills Mismatch and Unemployment in Africa
In the last ten years, Africa has produced nothing short of 10 million graduates annually on average, given the tons of students enrolled in tertiary education across the continent over the years. Between 2011 and 2019, the number of students enrolled in tertiary education in Sub-Saharan Africa rose by more than 30%, rising from 6.3 million to about 8.3 million. Likewise in the Northern region, the number of students enrolled rose from about 5.2 million in 2011 to about 6.9 million in 2019 representing about a 33% increase. While unarguably the number of graduates has been on the rise, can the same be said about the quality of the graduates? Are the graduates employable? Are the graduates equipped with the skills and knowledge needed to survive in the contemporary business world? Does the number of jobs available even match up with the number of adequately skilled graduates, if at all they exist?
Data Source: UNESCO Institute of Statistics
It is not a gainsaying that the world has moved fast beyond the era of the industrial age, it has transited into what we know as the information age-a world where technology is everything and everything in it is interconnected. Until education in Africa at all levels began to reflect these dynamics, the quality and the relevance of the education will remain questionable. Reminiscing on the top skills in demand in the past decade and the skills requirements of contemporary businesses, there is no doubt that the overhauling of the continent's education structure, syllabus and teaching style is long overdue. For five consecutive years, the top ten skills in demand according to data obtained from LinkedIn have somewhat been information and communication technology-embedded, whereas the African education structure is still designed in a way that only produces graduates fit for the long-passed industrial system.
Data from the UNESCO Institutes for Statistics reveal that Business Administration and Law related programs were the top choices of most African graduates in the last ten years, about 33% of the graduates produced in the decade studied business administration and law-related programs while about 13% studied education-related programs, about 18% studied social sciences, journalism, art, and humanities-related programs, about 9% studied engineering, manufacturing, and construction-related courses. The percentage of those that studied information and communication technology programs were barely about 6%. Overall, more than 77% of African graduates studied programs not related to science, technology, information, engineering, and mathematics while only 20% did so, the rest studied courses in the unspecified fields according to UIS statistics.
Data Source: UNESCO Institute for Statistics
The skills mismatch is evident in the employment stat. Data from the World Bank reveals that about 12% of youth in the Sub-Saharan African regions are unemployed while the percentage of youth unemployment in the Northern region is about 26%. Not so bad right? Well, not many Africans are actually finding a job, 74% of Africans in the Sub-Saharan region that claimed to be employed between 2010 and 2016 were actually self-employed while the percentage in the Northern region is about 33%. However, about 72% of the total employment in the Sub-Saharan region are adjudged to be vulnerable, in the Northern region, the percentage of vulnerable employment is about 27%. Vulnerably employed people, according to the World Bank, are contributing family workers and own-account workers with no formal work arrangement or working conditions
Data Source: databank.worldbank.org
While based on the high rate of self-employment, it can be inferred that Africans are more entrepreneurial-minded than white-collar job-oriented, the high percentage of vulnerable employment suggests the majority lack the requisite skills needed to run a business successfully or land a befitting job. Findings from Greentec Capital Africa foundation from assessment of about 500 start-ups either headquartered or operating in Africa showed that between 58% and 75% of start-ups in Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Congo, Tanzania, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia and Kenya failed between 2010 and 2018 (Business Day). Some of the factors iterated to be responsible for this include lack of proper skills, inconsistent government policies, lack of funding among others. Although the African education system cannot be solely blamed for this, the rate of start-up failure or vulnerable employment can however be minimized, if the system adequately prepares the youths for the requirements of the contemporary business world.
Addressing the prevailing skills mismatch is critical to effectively leveraging Africa's demographic advantage. Presently, Africa homes the youngest population in the world according to the United Nations Population Statistics, with a projection, that it will hold that position even far into the year 2100 with a youth population projection of about 1.2 billion. Over the last ten years, the percentage of Africans below 30 years of age is about 68% on average, while about 20% are between the age of 15 and 24. In terms of the count, the number of Africans between the age of 0 and 14 as of 2020 was about 530 million while those between the age of 15 and 29 in the same year are about 315 million. This youthful population implies that the continent has very huge development potentials as well as a higher risk of even facing more acts of violence, cybercrimes, and other youth-related vices if the demographic dividend is not properly harnessed.
Data Source: United Nations Population Division
Thus, putting in place appropriate skills and knowledge impartation structure in Africa is more than just bridging the present productivity and skills gap, but ensuring the continent catches up with the rest of the world in terms of development by leveraging its demographic advantage. Effectively addressing these challenges requires a multi-pronged approach targeting both the demand and supply of labour. Young students can be developed into competent talents in line with the demands of the contemporary labour market while new entrepreneurs are also raised through youth entrepreneurship programs to mop up excess labour supply in the system.