The challenging opportunity of Africa's rising workforce

Young women attend a computer science training class in North Darfur, Sudan. Africa has a growing youth population, but are there jobs for them? Photo by: Albert Gonzalez Farran / UNAMID / CC BY-NC-ND

Africa is growing, and it is growing fast.

By 2050, the continent will account for half of the world's population growth, and by 2100 its current 1.1 billion population could quadruple. Population projections from the United Nations estimate a workforce of 1 billion Africans by 2050, an increase in the continent's share of the global workforce from 12 to 23 percent.

This represents both a challenge and an opportunity.

African leaders see their fast-growing and young population as one of their greatest resources. Yet this rising workforce faces new challenges, such as a rapidly changing work environment, the rise of technology and the need for new skills. Compounding the problem are existing issues that many African nations grapple with, including poverty, lack of access to education, and lack of quality education services when access does exist.

What is being done, and what can be done differently, to improve the chances of this new generation finding and subsequently keeping jobs?

Many of the issues that contribute to youth unemployment revolve around the lack of quality education that is essential to land a job with one of the many private sector companies that want to do business in Africa, as well as the rise of technology, which affects even skilled workers.

While much is already being done to address these challenges in Africa — researching 21st century employer requirements, designing new curricula and giving undertrained students access to pathway programs — the efforts of different organizations are fragmented. They do make an impact, but often not enough.

That’s why Peter Joyce, senior associate of education and workforce at U.S.-based nonprofit research institute RTI International, believes we must do a better job on sharing expertise and lessons learned.

“We need to be more like the health sector ... more collaborative, sharing experiences and tools to be more effective in addressing the problem of youth unemployment,” he said this week during a panel discussion at Devex’s Career Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

To create an environment conducive to collaboration, RTI began working on the Global Center for Youth Employment, a virtual learning center that aims to bring together partners from all sectors — even including competitors — to focus their expertise and energy in creating new tools and devising effective solutions to help tackle the unique problems facing a new generation of workers in Africa and across the world.

Joyce — who heads the new center — underscored this paradigm shift is necessary to find new and unorthodox solutions in a world where the career landscape is changing so rapidly.

One way the center could help provide solutions faster and increase their reach, he said, is by helping RTI itself find more partners who can then use the research tools it creates to gather more data. An example currently being piloted is the Workforce Ecosystem Assessment tool. Designed to systematically survey stakeholders and gather information, the tool makes sense of all the data, the tool creates visual reports and identifies misalignments, helping those involved develop solutions that address real needs.

Many within the global development community are convinced that partnerships and innovation can help unlock Africa’s workforce potential, but it remains to be seen if these approaches will be truly effective in helping provide young Africans with the skills required to navigate a rapidly evolving career landscape on the continent.

Although it is difficult to predict what the future holds and what outputs the center will generate, Joyce is optimistic that bringing all relevant players together and creating radical new partnerships can generate more effective solutions for the fastest-rising global workforce.

Stay tuned as we roll out news and videos from the Devex Partnerships and Career Forum in Addis Ababa over the next few days. Follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook to stay abreast of the latest from Ethiopia and elsewhere.

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About the author

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    David Kirba

    David is a writer and photographer based in Addis Ababa. He enjoys writing about the changes sweeping through his adopted country, Ethiopia. Before starting his freelance career, David worked as a copywriter in some of Ethiopia's largest advertising and PR agencies. He has contributed to newspapers and magazines in India and Ethiopia since 2001.