Onyi Nwaneri is the CEO of Afrika Tikkun Services. Photo: Supplied
Onyi Nwaneri is the CEO of Afrika Tikkun Services. Photo: Supplied

No more riots: reimagine the employed African youth

By Time of article published Jul 15, 2021

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By Onyi Nwaneri

This World Youth Skills Day arrives at a time of difficulty for South African youth, many of whom have taken part in the riots and looting which have engulfed communities across the nation this week.

World Youth Skills Day is celebrated on July 15.

We call for calm and understanding as South Africa faces community unrest which has been sparked in part by a desperate youth.

It is clear that our young people are in crisis, imprisoned in their homes by a raging pandemic that continues to take away lives and livelihoods. It is times like these that we need to take the opportunity to reflect on how we can equip young people with the kind of skills that will effect real and lasting change in their communities.

It may not be the short-term solution which some are looking for, but it is a sustainable and practical one: we need to start thinking seriously and critically about investing in equipping young people with skills that will make them independent enough to survive any economic situation.

Let us commit to galvanising a skills revolution that creates a more independent, agile and empowered workforce which can adapt to the rapidly changing landscape of the workplace. Let us reimagine the working environment and what it means to be employed and economically active.

The days of the traditional school-to-industry pipeline are behind us, and learning is no longer a finite journey that ends with employment. It is rather an odyssey that has to continue throughout one’s career.

Improving the quality of African graduates entering the workforce is as important as keeping existing workforces up-to-date with the skills requirements of organisations. Innovative practices such as reverse mentorship programmes in which junior and senior workers exchange their skills, knowledge and understanding are already challenging old ideas about skills acquisition and work experience.

Work experience requirements in traditional organisations remain a major gatekeeper for graduates wanting to use their skills to participate in the economy. Cultivating work experience should also form part of the higher education and training experience, skills training should be an integral part of any organisation’s daily operations.

In the post-pandemic ethos of the 21st century, we are no-longer required to only focus on traditional forms of employment and economic activity. Current students and those of the future have myriad options available to them, outside of traditional employment, especially as Covid-19 has normalised the idea of remote working and fully virtual workspaces.

This is the era where Africa should be producing more consultants, freelancers and entrepreneurs rather than focusing on providing existing organisations with employees. So as we move to optimise the skills for the digital age, we should also be empowering young people to get the most of those skills within and outside the confines of traditional employment.

This is a charge that needs to be taken up in higher education programmes. Universities, colleges, TVET colleges and training/skills development organisations need to create well-rounded and independent graduates who are not dependent on the traditional school-to-industry pipeline. This could also open up young African graduates to a whole world of employment and work opportunities outside of Africa as well, making young African graduates better positioned to take part in the global economy.

According to a November 2020 report: Mapping of Digital and ICT roles demand in South Africa commissioned by Harambee, many South African organisations do not have a clear understanding of their current and future digital skills requirements. This is further exacerbated by archaic and disparate viewpoints of the functions and roles of human resources (HR), IT and operations executives in highly digitised and technology-enabled work environments.

One of the key challenges for South African employers highlighted in the report is the dire shortage of digital and ICT skills and a lack of available digital talent pipelines.

Post-pandemic skills demand

Thousands of young people are sitting at home with qualifications the pandemic has already begun to render obsolete as companies calibrate the working environment for a post-pandemic reality. One that is moving toward remote work, ICT based skills in every profession and far less manual labour.

According to Linkedin’s Top Trending Jobs data analysis in the first six months of 2021, ICT-related skills are still the most sought after by employers, followed by skills in finance, sales and education. The high unemployment rate in the country is not just a product of an ailing economy, but also a higher education and skills development system that is not producing graduates which match the particular skills supply and demand situation in the country. But this alone, won’t solve the discrepancy between the needs of organisations and the growing unemployment rate in the country.

A recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights the growing role of informal employment among highly skilled individuals in challenging and redefining the role of skilled labour in developing economies. This highlights the need for creating highly skilled African graduates who can compete in this space as part of combating unemployment and inequality.

According to the ILO report which focused on BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), the informal economy is seeing an influx of high-skill qualified youths, mostly women, engaged as workers in the rapidly growing platform economy, but without proper labour contracts and social protection coverage. Collaborative efforts to regulate this growing sect of informal employment could greatly improve its potential as an economic game changer in Africa.

As the report’s recommendations suggest, there is a case to be made for countries to undertake a systematic review of how each country supports informal work and enterprises using methods best suited for that country’s economic landscape.

We believe this should begin at the level of higher education and skills training, where syllabuses can be adapted to include exposure to industry in more meaningful and innovative ways.

Onyi Nwaneri is the CEO of Afrika Tikkun Services.

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites


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