Skills Development

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Youth entrepreneurship has the potential of providing the much-needed solution to Africa’s unemployment challenges, and driving economic growth on the continent. Click To Tweet

The road to 2030 – a year set aside by development partners as the deadline for eradicating extreme poverty – looks very much uncertain for many African countries. The confluence of rapid demographic growth, digital transformation, and weak human resource base in recent years presents fresh and critical challenges to Africa’s development dynamics and global competitiveness.

According to the World Economic Forum, Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 13% of the world’s working-age population. By 2030, this number will increase to more than 17%, making many African countries resource-rich, labor-abundant economies. Yet, only about 3 million jobs are created on the continent annually. Many African governments have struggled to translate economic growth into improved sustainable economic opportunity for their citizens. The International Labour Organization records that young people are the most affected segment of people without jobs.

Nevertheless, youth entrepreneurship has the potential of providing the much-needed solution to Africa’s unemployment challenges, and driving economic growth on the continent. Africa’s youth could be in the driving seat of global development in the next decades thereby catalyzing economic growth through entrepreneurship (UNDP).

Historically, entrepreneurship has been a tool for helping people take ownership of their aspirations. Initiatives like Startup India and Make in India helped to spur economic growth and attract Foreign Direct Investment into the Indian economy. According to a study by IDRC Canada, youth entrepreneurship, in particular, is an option to create employment for the youth.

Why?

Youth entrepreneurs are more likely to hire fellow youths, are particularly responsive to new economic opportunities and trends and are active in high growth sectors, amongst others.

In the words of Tony Elumelu, founder of The Tony Elumelu Foundation, entrepreneurship is the cornerstone to African development and the key to local value creation in Africa. If properly harnessed, Africa’s burgeoning youth population could translate into a dividend for the continent through the creation of enterprises that will not only contribute towards economic growth but also create jobs for their fellow youth (OECD).

However, to properly harness and unlock entrepreneurial potentials of Africa’s youth, the following pieces need to be put in place:

  1. Funding for startups. Although there has been a remarkable improvement in venture capital funding in Africa, undercapitalization is still one of the major reasons why many startups fail. The road to startup funding in Africa is a long one, and 9 out of 10 ventures never make it. With an incredibly skewed ecosystem and lack of local funding pipeline in many African countries, the hope for venture capital funding for startups often lies outside the continent. There is, therefore, a need for more financial instruments to provide the pre-seed and seed capital to early-stage businesses.
  2. Access to market. Without the opportunity to access markets, obtain market-based prices and meet demands, business owners cannot capture economic opportunities on the continent. In spite of the tremendous economic prospects of regional integration, intra-Africa trade has remained horrendously low. It is estimated that intra-African trade costs are around 50% higher than in East Asia, and are the highest of intra-regional costs in any developing region. Not only is there a need for trade and market information to entrepreneurs, but there is also a need for inclusivity. We must create systems, processes, and platforms to connect buyers and sellers from across the continent, as well as minimize post-harvest losses for smallholder farmers. Hopefully, initiatives like the inaugural Intra-African Trade Fair will provide the pathways to advancing trade and economic conditions of people across the region. The FAO estimates that on-farm and post-harvest activities account for US$4 billion tons in losses per year. To curb this, the African Development Bank (AfDB) committed to invest US$24 billion in agricultural transformative projects in Africa over the next decade. But that’s not enough, the use of data at the farm and value chain levels could potentially transform African agricultural systems and lead to greater access to markets.
  3. Mentorship and skills development. Despite the media celebration of African business icons like Tony Elumelu, Strive Masiyiwa, Rebecca Enonchong and so on, entrepreneurship on the continent, in practice,  is a long, arduous journey that requires stamina, education, and community support. According to a Venture Capital for Africa survey, of all the different reasons that might cause an African-based business to fail, respondents selected poor execution as chief. This, essentially, means poor entrepreneurship skills. As a Tony Elumelu entrepreneur, I can attest to the transformative power of top-tier mentorship and skills development as prerequisites for entrepreneurial success. Access to entrepreneurship support systems, especially for women and youth in rural areas, could spur more opportunities for innovation on the continent.
  4. A policy with a purpose. Young people often face numerous challenges when trying to establish their businesses. Among these bottlenecks are high banking fees, inadequate youth-friendly products and lack of financial literacy. Governments need to create policies and programs that facilitate an enabling entrepreneurial ecosystem and access to investment stacks to turn ideas into innovations. There is also a need for private sector support in enhancing the capacity of youth development organizations at the local level. And, the financial sector must create special products to serve youth-led startups and provide young people with access to relevant financial services. Rwanda’s Private Sector Driven Agricultural Growth (PSDAG), Ghana’s National Entrepreneurship and Innovation Plan (NEIP), Nigeria’s N-Power and The Tony Elumelu Foundation serve as case studies for some of the answers we need in creating systems and platforms that turn passion to profit.

Conclusion

The economic case for unlocking the potentials of young people through entrepreneurship is simple: it is one sure way of actualizing the sustainable development goal of eradicating poverty on the continent by 2030. In other words, the biggest business opportunities on the continent in the coming decade will be created by young innovators. The impact of development institutions like the Tony Elumelu Foundation is proof positive that if governments, institutions, and private sector organizations collaborate in “democratizing luck” and setting young people up for entrepreneurial success, the social and economic dividends are tremendous! The future of Africa lies in youth entrepreneurship. Therefore, investment in youth is not just the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do – and the time is now!


About the Author

Tom-Chris✨ #Readyforwork
Tom-Chris Emewulu is the President & Founder of SFAN. He is an education enthusiast, entrepreneurship and career coach, a consultant at Mastercard Foundation, Seedstars Ambassador for Ghana and an aspiring venture capitalist. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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If Africa’s children are educated and equipped with the skills to succeed in the twenty-first-century economy, the entire continent will prosper. But if they are denied a quality education, Africa’s economic progress will be slowed, stunted, or even thrown into reverse. – Strive Masiyiwa, Founder of Econet Wireless

NIGERIA – On October 25, I had the privilege of representing SFAN at the Tony Elumelu Foundation Forum 2018 where 5,000 entrepreneurs, business leaders and heads of states gathered to discuss various topics around economic development across Africa. I was opportune to be one of the select marketplace vendors that hosted the President of Ghana, His Excellency Nana Akufo-Addo and the Founder of Tony Elumelu Foundation, Mr. Tony Elumelu.

The meeting gave me the opportunity to share my thoughts on how to fix Ghana’s education system with both men. This article is trying to extend that conversation.

If you have followed the ongoing dialogue about the state of higher education in Africa, then you’re aware that there’s an urgent need for rethinking the entire framework of Africa’s education systems. The handwriting on the wall is crystal clear: by 2050, Africa will be home to a billion young people. The continent’s future – and perhaps that of the world – hinges on investments in human capital. Regrettably, as it stands, all sub-Saharan Africa countries perform worse than the global average of the human capital index.

While there has been an incremental economic growth on the continent, the stack reality is that majority of African students are not learning the skills that can make them competitive in the digital world. And if this trend continues, our future generation will be a lost cause.

The good news is: we have a window of opportunity to avert this catastrophe. Apart from drastically raising education financing from the current meager 10%  (which, thankfully, the education commission is taking a bold step to accomplish), there are three important areas that need immediate attention for fixing the state of higher education in Africa.

To be perfectly clear, this agenda will need bold thinking as well as a refusal to settle for things as they are. Fixing higher education in Africa will equally need multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Over the past five years, a greater part of our work at SFAN has centered on creating programs and events that bring together stakeholders from business, academia, government, media, and civil society. The goal: to spur new pathways for equipping young people with skills that can help them thrive in the  21st-century economy. Our extensive research and survey of the root causes of youth unemployment in Africa show:

  • a mismatch of skills between labor market need and education
  • insufficient employment opportunities, and
  • lack of access to support services and available opportunities.

This important disconnect inspired us to set up Readyforwork Career Coaching Program; empowering the youth to take ownership of their career aspirations and grow in confidence that yields success. With a ready workforce, employers on the African continent need a upskilled talent to take advantage of the economic boom.

Obviously, the future of work will not be about college degrees but about job skills. Quite frankly, I think the current education system has outlived its purpose. CNBC recently compiled a list of top employers that no longer require employees to have a college degree. Simply put, we are moving into an era of an alternative education system.

It is not my intention to propagate a conspiracy theory but I know where the current education framework came from. Over one hundred years ago, factory owners that didn’t have enough compliant factory workers invented the system. Therefore, it made sense to arrange kids in rows, tell them what to think and make them compete for grades. And it worked excellently for over 100 years before technology disrupted the work environment.

A hundred years later, automation and robots have taken over many factory jobs, and collaboration has become more important than competition. The problem is: many schools in Africa are still stuck in the archaic mode of teaching and their curriculum has not kept pace with the changing nature of work.

Yet, programs like SFAN’s Readyforwork are rethinking the process by giving every gift an equal chance through personalized education. We are leveraging data to curate contents that tailored to the needs of learners instead of a one-size-fits-all system.

Nevertheless, if we trained every job seeker, there are not enough jobs to absorb them.

The numbers clearly show that while about 10 to 12 million youth enter the workforce each year, only 3.1 million jobs are created.

Consequently, there’s a pressing need to unlock entrepreneurial potentials of young people for job creation. Governments and development agencies are progressively acknowledging the fact that “Africa’s young people could enrich not only this continent but the world economy and society at large.”

Like I told President Akufo-Addo, this is why initiatives like the Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Program is of vital importance!

Our coaching program also serves the need of helping young people acquire the entrepreneurial mindset and real-world exposure that help them to take ownership of their aspirations for success.

Now comes the third aspect of fixing higher education in Africa: giving young people access to mentors and opportunities to engage the real world. Experts have said that mentorship is one of the smartest investments you can make in your business or career. Mentorship helps young people gain direction and navigate the digital world.

For the last several years, I have worked with different companies in finding the top ten percent of entry-level job seekers. One significant thing I’ve noticed is that many job seekers lack job awareness skills. A good mentorship program helps learners to gain job awareness and exposure to the world of work.

In conclusion, the economic case for investing in Africa’s human capital is that it is the continent’s most important resource and the surest way of ending poverty on the continent.

I agree with Strive Masiyiwa, “if Africa’s children are educated and equipped with the skills to succeed in the twenty-first-century economy, the entire continent will prosper. But if they are denied a quality education, Africa’s economic progress will be slowed, stunted, or even thrown into reverse.”

Clearly, countries like Finland and Singapore are quite ahead of the curve by “giving more time to exercises that will involve a synthesis of knowledge from various subject areas.”

This is the moment for Africa’s youth!

Donate to our crowdfunding campaign to help us scale our career coaching program through a talent accelerator that will unlock the employment and entrepreneurship potentials of indigent youth at zero upfront cost.


About the Author

Tom-Chris✨ #Readyforwork
Tom-Chris Emewulu is the President & Founder of SFAN. He is an education enthusiast, entrepreneurship and career coach, a consultant at Mastercard Foundation, Seedstars Ambassador for Ghana and an aspiring venture capitalist. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
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The World Bank in conjunction with the United Nations held a number of different events in various countries around the world on October 17 to mark the International Day for Eradication of Poverty, 2018. These include an inspiring in-country dialogue session and interactive video conference on the theme “Africa’s Youth and the Future of Work”.

Although different speakers pivoted on the value of soft skills in today’s workforce during both the in-country and video conference event, the questions of some of the participants at the Accra event show that a number of people are not particularly sure about what constitutes soft skills and how to develop them.

Of course, the panelists, as well as myself, gave further useful interventions on what soft skills are and the need to cultivate them as a student or job seeker. However, after speaking with one accounting student that approached me after the session, I made a mental note to share further thoughts on this subject. In this article, you will learn what soft skills are, why they are becoming increasingly important, and how to essentially develop them.

So, let’s take a deep dive –

What are Soft Skills?

I think that the best way to understand soft skills is by understanding hard skills. It is generally accepted that hard skills are what you learned or studied in school that can be defined and quantified on paper. Specifically, they are competencies like an ability to use software tools, writing, doing accounting and so on.

On the flip side, soft skills are those abstract, intangible skills that are difficult to quantify and are not usually taught in the classroom. They are the skills we use in navigating everyday life and making human connections. Soft skills are often referred to as transferable skills or professional skills.

From data collected in over two years of our methodological research in making sense of the persistent disconnect between education and industry requirements, below are three main sets of skills employers categorize as soft skills:

  • People Skills – this includes teamwork, interpersonal skills, communication, leadership, and customer orientation.
  • Self Reliance Skills – this includes self-awareness, proactivity, willingness to learn, self-promotion, networking and planning action.
  • Life Skills – this includes problem-solving, flexibility, business acumen, critical thinking, and commitment.

The importance of soft skills in today’s competitive, fast-paced, digital work environment cannot be overemphasized. The more intelligent technologies continue to redefine our workplace, the more human cognitive skills are sought after.

In fact, soft skills are becoming today’s hard skills. You can be the world’s best software engineer or accountant but if you don’t know how to work with people; if you cannot communicate your thoughts clearly; if you cannot deconstruct complexities and proffer simple solutions, you will not be of much use to anyone.

Candidates that demonstrate these competencies will always be farther ahead in the workplace. Academic qualifications obviously have their place; they open doors but soft skills are what keeps you on the job.

How do you develop soft skills?

There are many activities that can help you cultivate soft skills. Programs like SFAN’s Readyforwork Career Coaching Program are super important in developing your soft skills. Through personalized educational contents crafted by employers, one-on-one coaching, and team conversations, participants are equipped with practical skills and exposed to real-world projects that empower them to take ownership of their career aspirations and grow in confidence that yields success.

Also, engaging in community service and volunteer programs are crucial ways of improving your soft skills. They help you generate goodwill that comes from teamwork and collaboration. Volunteering is also a great way to sharpen your leadership skills, networking skills, and problem-solving skills.

Furthermore, participating in group discussions, events and social networking can be another way of developing your soft skills. Learn to speak up whenever you have the opportunity and get comfortable standing in front of people. If you are afraid of public speaking, well my friend, you’re not alone – 41% of people across cultures around the world are terrified about public speaking. The vital thing to note is that public speaking is not a performance but a conversation from your heart.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my career is that nothing is a given. Things change fast and knowing how to think on your feet is a skill that’ll take you places. I can write about this in two books because of its importance in the workplace today. Train yourself to be a problem solver. The most uninspiring thing you can do is to be the girl or boy that always go to your boss or team leader with problems. Everyone sees problems but not everyone sees solutions. Hence, before you point out a problem, have a solution on hand. It will set you apart from others.

Conclusion

The good news is that all these soft skills are learnable. With careful observation and practice, you can improve on each and every one of them. The most interesting thing about a human being is that nobody is born smart – we all start at zero. Believe it or not, there was a time when Einstein couldn’t do his ABCs. Chimamanda Adichie definitely didn’t start her career as a great communicator. Neither was Barack Obama a remarkable leader as a teenager. They all learned and practiced these crafts until they perfected it. Now that you know the traits you should cultivate for the future of work, you too can do the same! Sign up here to receive more tools for career development and to be in the know about our epic events and training programs.


About the Author

Tom-Chris✨ #Readyforwork
Tom-Chris Emewulu is the President & Founder of SFAN. He is an education enthusiast, entrepreneurship and career coach, a consultant at Mastercard Foundation, Seedstars Ambassador for Ghana and an aspiring venture capitalist. Follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Have other tips you want to add? Drop them in comments! If you enjoyed reading this article, consider sharing it so that others can find it!

How?

By prioritizing the need for a skilled and advancing labor force.

A Changing Tide

Traditionally, Sub-Saharan Africa has been characterized as land and resource abundant, but labor scarce. For decades, the region’s development agenda has been mired in the belief and burden of the resource curse.

But recent projections show that from 2000 to 2050, Africa’s population will rise by 160%, turning most countries in the region into labor-abundant economies. This demographic change has new and important implications for the region’s development dynamics and comparative advantage.

With the rising human population, advancing human capital is fundamental to the continent’s economic advancement. The confluence of rapid technological change and globalization means skill development is imperative for countries seeking to close the development gap and become economically competitive (OECD).

It is for this reason that the work of capacity builders in Africa is of dire importance to the continent’s economic and social advancement. The work that pioneering capacity builders, such as Stars From All Nations (SFAN) in Ghana, do, is essential to achieving all development outcomes in the country because, without ready and available skilled labor, companies and organizations cannot grow and deliver on their missions and goals.

Quantum Leap Career Fair Panel
Quantum Leap Career Fair 2017 Panel

Quantum Leap Career Fair 2017

Stars From All Nations (SFAN) is a social enterprise on a mission to provide education to employment/entrepreneurship pipeline opportunities for youths in Ghana and beyond.

One of its hallmark events is its yearly Quantum Leap Career Fair where the company brings together business leaders, HR experts, entrepreneurs, and hundreds of candidates to discuss the next phase of work and skill development on the continent.

At this year’s Quantum Leap Career Fair, held at the British Council Ghana, business leaders such as Lucy Quist, Chief Executive Officer at Airtel Ghana, joined about 300 participants in thinking through the future of work on the continent.

The event, aptly named Technology and the Future of Work in Africa, hosted a panel session with Yasmin Kumi, Founder at Africa Foresight Group; Paul Payne, Manager at the British Council Skills Hub; Josiah Kwesi-Eyison, Co-founder at iSpace; Amma Baffoe, Recruitment Manager at MEST, Genevieve Puni, Founder at Rectrain Limited; and Jemila Abdulai, Founder at Circumspecte. The panel session was followed by a one-on-one mentoring session where candidates had the opportunity to talk to resource personnel about their resumes, career interests, enterprise ideas, and job opportunities.

Presentation of gifts to Quantum Leap Career Fair panelists
Presentation of gifts to Quantum Leap Career Fair panelists

How To Quantum Leap

Conversations during the day revealed that Africans do not only have a responsibility but a unique opportunity to solve both local and global problems. In fact, Africans today are in a unique and unprecedented position: with modern advances in technology and access to the global market (the proliferation of mobile phones, social media, tech tools), there has never been a better time to join the global movement and ride the proverbial technological wave. Finally, the veil of fear and ignorance that has long separated the continent from the rest of the world is lifting, as worlds and people connect through various social platforms.

But while technology brings new opportunities to connect and new employment and business opportunities, young Africans must also build and work for businesses that address local issues that have long plagued and continue to plague our communities and dim progress: high illiteracy, poverty, low health outcomes, food insecurity, and inequality.

 A cross-section of Quantum Leap Career Fair Audience
A cross-section of Quantum Leap Career Fair Audience

The good news?

History shows that in the long term, “investing in skills development is far less costly than paying the price for poorer health, lower incomes, unemployment, and social exclusion — all which are closely tied to lower skills” (OECD). Meaning, skills development allows us to make the quantum leap to a more prosperous Africa because it inherently addresses many of the issues that the continent faces.

The future of Africa is finally here! Both labor and resource-rich, generations of future Africans can enjoy a better quality of life if institutions, capacity builders, and businesses work together to bring more skilled and knowledgeable founders and workers who will address the issues of today and tomorrow to the market.


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This article was written by Bridget Boakye.

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