Africa has the world’s youngest population but youth unemployment has reached alarming levels. With technology changing rapidly, where does hope lie in addressing the mismatch between skillsets and job market requirements on the continent?
David Sokefun co-founded Codar Tech Africa in Lagos, Nigeria, in December 2021 realizing that tech training was inadequate in Africa’s biggest economy. With the swiftly-changing job market because of advancements in generative AI, he knew the importance and urgency of teaching tech skills that would set people apart in an AI-influenced landscape.
“An adage rings true – in the 21st century, illiteracy pertains to those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn,” Sokefun says to FORBES AFRICA. “History attests to the fate of companies that failed to adapt during the internet era, as well as those that successfully navigated the shift.”
Sokefun’s will to build a company that learns to work with AI is perfectly timed. Open AI’s ChatGPT has redefined the boundaries of what artificial intelligence (AI) can do. Whether it’s writing a complex code or a poem, generating a travel itinerary for the summer holidays, or learning a new language, the chatbot doesn’t hesitate to help you within seconds. Unsurprisingly, it attracted over one million users within five days of its launch, and OpenAI is currently valued at about $29 billion.
The staggering progress of ChatGPT has led many to fear for their jobs. Geoffrey Hinton, the godfather of AI, resigned from Google, citing concerns over the likelihood of AI to upend the job market. In an open letter, many technology leaders and researchers, including Elon Musk, urged AI labs to pause the
development of the most advanced systems, stating, “Advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources.”
With the powerful technology supposedly eating up massive industries, there’s no denying the worldwide trend will impact African livelihoods, too, as discussed in this year’s Future of Education (FoE) summit hosted by CNBC Africa. The ninth annual summit and thought leadership discussion on July 5 saw brilliant leaders from all over the world come together to explore reasons for the high unemployment rates on the African continent and redefine the purpose of education to make it more relevant to today’s times.
In 2015, the African Development Bank reported that a third of Africa’s 420 million people between the ages of 15 and 35 were unemployed, another third were vulnerably employed, and only one in six was in wage employment. Ten million to 12 million African youth enter the workforce each year, but only 3 million formal jobs are created annually. Africa has the world’s youngest population, with a median age of 19.7 years.
A youthful population is typically a boon for the development prospects of any region, but the escalating unemployment rate in Africa prevents the youth from realizing their potential, forcing many to migrate to the developed economies.
Dr Rakesh Wahi, the co- founder and Vice Chairman of CNBC Africa and Publisher of FORBES AFRICA, mentioned in his introductory address at FoE that limited access to reasonably- priced internet derails learning. It’s the most essential tool for education today.
“Sub-Saharan Africa today has only 22% internet access compared to a global average of 63%,” Wahi said.
Furthermore, broadband access in Africa comes at a very high cost. In terms of affordable pricing, India has the fifth lowest internet data rates in the world, with the cost of data at about 17 US cents per gigabyte. In comparison, South Africa at $2 per gigabyte is almost 12 times higher in price than India. According to a University of Chicago Law School paper published in 2020, South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world. Even more than two decades after apartheid and attaining democracy, over half the country still lives below the national poverty line, and the education system is rife with inequalities. Schools largely reserved for white students during the apartheid era remain better equipped today than schools historically available to non-white students. The digital divide in education has left some students without basic access to information.
“It is important that we leave no one behind – that we work hard to ensure that irrespective of where a person comes from, which nation a person belongs to, they have basic needs they need to function as a global citizen,” said Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, at the FoE summit, during his keynote address. “Issues of food security are very important. Issues resources, are very important.”]
While fewer jobs are being created, experts argue that young graduates don’t have the necessary skills to excel in the current job market.
“There is a huge number of graduate students who are unemployable because they lack the skills that create this wide mismatch,” Dr Marwa Haddar, Vice-President of Finance and Strategy of Blue Monsoon Capital, a financial services company, noted during a panel discussion. “They spend long years studying at universities or 12 years of curricula. And then they are with degrees that have really no market value locally or regionally or not to say at the global level.”
With rapidly changing technologies heavily influencing the job market, there is a constant need to teach students the skills required to succeed in a competitive job market. But, many universities choose to focus on old syllabi and teaching methods that aren’t actually beneficial to the youth.
“Schools were established to have people being fed into the workplace,” Joseph Gerassi, the Executive Head of Redhill School, said. “If we’re not following what the workplace needs, then those schools are a waste of time, because we’re going to have people come out of those schools and not having the skills to go into that market. This idea that a curriculum is put in and it’s got to last for the next 20 years now is just so out of the way.”
Besides lacking the technical, cognitive, and soft skills required to advance in a demanding work environment, students also don’t get a chance to develop critical thinking skills that can foster an entrepreneurial mindset.
“Business and academia need to come closer together in developing the curriculum,” Sugendhree Reddy, CEO of Access Bank, suggested. “This is not a once-off thing. This is a regular thing to understand how business is evolving. And that is missing because when the academics go and research, it’s desktop research. But when it comes to actually understanding what business requires, you have to be with business. And you have to talk to business leaders to understand that.”
If students solely rely on rote memorization of various concepts and don’t apply their learning in an actual workplace, they will be unable to gain practical experience that benefits from their academic understanding, experts at the summit reiterated.
“One of the key things I’ve seen change in higher education in the last 20 years is the number of internships,” Professor Mark Smith, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Southampton, said. “As a recognized part of their degree, students do part of their work within the workplace. In North America, there are some very good examples of cooperative degrees, where students label the amount of time they spend in industry and the amount of time they spend within the academic institution.”
This mismatch between skillsets and job market requirements is a serious threat to Africa’s economic status. A report by The Economist highlighted that about 70% of employers feel that there is insufficient training at educational institutions, while 70% of educational institutions believe that they have prepared graduates adequately for the job market.
Better communication and collaboration between the education sector and labor market can ensure a heightened focus on problem- solving skills rather than very specific knowledge.
A lack of jobs on the African continent hasn’t, however, dampened the youth’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit. Multiple enterprises, including Chipper Cash, Andela, OPay, Wave, Flutterwave, and Interswitch, among others, are all Africa-born enterprises now being valued as unicorns. Entrepreneurs have learned to take calculated risks and launch their own businesses, which can help Africa fight its rising unemployment rates.
“I think it was Bill Gates who said if he looks for a trait when he recruits people, it’s curiosity,” Stefan Lauber, the Managing Director at iFundi, an educational institution in South Africa, said. “The modern learner needs to be curious. The modern learner also needs, therefore, to enjoy learning. The model is changing from a top-down approach, where institutions pride themselves on excluding a lot of people, institutions determining curriculum, institutions saying, ‘You need to learn that,’ to what I believe is a much more bottom-up approach of learning, where ultimately learning resides in an individual.”
Along with institutions introducing a more hands-on approach to learning, students can be open to engaging with new material that can help them start their own ventures or be productive company members.
“It is really important that we raise our children, and the schools help us with that; in developing a sense of curiosity and a growth mindset,” Dan Adkins, CEO of Transnational Academic Group, said at the FoE summit. “Because as they go forward into the future, they’re going to have to deal with very rapid change, and they’re going to have to be able to learn on their own. There will not be time for them to go back to university and spend another three years getting a degree. And universities, and less of the ones who develop the technology, are usually five to 10 years behind the leading edge anyway. So we have to develop in our young people a passion for learning and give them the skillset so they can research on their own, determine what is credible and what is not credible, and then know how to apply that.”
Speakers at the FoE summit also deliberated on the importance of upskilling to progress in a competitive marketplace. In a survey conducted by LinkedIn, 62% of CEOs said that they considered upskilling a priority. Learning about new technological innovations and AI would help a company stand out from the rest. Educating, training, and developing a workforce would not only make employees feel more valued by the company, but it would also improve their performance.
An academic degree can no longer guarantee a secure job.
It’s on students and workers to forge their own paths to navigate complicated industry conditions. With the looming threat of AI stealing jobs, it becomes even more pressing for workers to adapt and be flexible with what their careers might look like.
Just like Sokefun has adapted to the changing job landscape by building his own company, others can focus on gaining the right skills to be able to withstand the storm. Whether it’s AI or other factors influencing change, with the right training, individuals like Sokefun can put Africa on the world map by dominating the education and entrepreneurship landscape. Hopefully, there will be more like him.