Building Skills for the Present and Future of Africa

By 2030, the largest workforce in the world will be African. This generation is arguably the last to have been nursed into the idea of an education system delivering a job. Indeed, the fast-changing global workforce nudges both public and private actors to re-evaluate workforce readiness. At the moment, and in the future, uncertainty spurs and will spur creativity so that entrepreneurship becomes mainstream.

Entrepreneurship creates pathways for young Africans to lead in their communities. It holds the promise of creativity to generate self-employment and create jobs. Entrepreneurship generates new solutions that turn policies into engines for wealth creation, not just poverty reduction. The shared value that lies in wealth creation is the lubricant required for engines of transformation. Unfortunately, the skills and the aptitudes for entrepreneurship are still not being taught at scale to Africa’s youth. Low financial literacy levels for young people makes financial systems a stumbling block instead of a leverage.

Despite its promises, entrepreneurship cannot substitute itself to education and training. Too many young people become entrepreneurs by default, held back by many ills that public-private systems can address.

World Youth Skills Day reminds us that this pressing issue is still mostly unattended to. Addressing systemic limitations such as access to quality education and relevant skills for where we are and where we need to go is a missing link. An important pre-requisite to that is a collective appreciation for what entrepreneurship is, as its current permutation is often glossy with an emphasis on urban technology.

For all its purported promise, there remains some elitism to entrepreneurship. That elitism limits our ability to appreciate the hidden entrepreneur; those who are buried beneath the veneer and allure of modern day entrepreneurship. Picture here unemployed young men often seen filling the potholes that characterize our roads. A few coins often thrown in their direction undermines what we have to learn from them. Our perception of their value is transactional, yet they are contributing to society. They are a reminder that entrepreneurship is found not only in formal sectors.

A great deal of trade in African cities happens through the windows of our moving vehicles. Mobile Network operators, for example, have integrated formal and informal economies at traffic lights and busy intersections. Furthermore, men, women and youth are charting their wealth path by selling goods and services, but we have to recognize them as entrepreneurs so that public and private sectors provide a framework for apprenticeship and tapping into their negotiation, marketing, and supply chain management skills. In this way we can unleash the promise of entrepreneurship to create, generate and redistribute wealth through jobs.

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor and Youth Business International report compiled by the World Economic Forum (Bonnici, Francois, 2015) found that as many as 60 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds in Africa are “highly optimistic” about the availability of business opportunities, and confident in their skills and knowledge to start businesses of their own. Yet the skills and education are lacking in translating that enthusiasm into tangible outcomes. Our focus on formal economy when African economies are vastly informal leaves us one too many blind spots to drive transformation at scale.

Scale requires systems and people. However, the same WEF report states that about a third of young entrepreneurs in Africa with nascent businesses, are driven to entrepreneurship by necessity. Because these young people become entrepreneurs without a basic educational grounding in enterprise creation, their businesses have low success rates.

This challenge presents an opportunity to create the support systems that can enhance the chances for success and encourage many more young people to consider entrepreneurship in the future. In Zimbabwe, young entrepreneur and Junior Achievement (JA) alumnus, Rudo Mazhandu, found a market need and created her own soap making business, bolstered by the combination of her formal education and entrepreneurship training from JA, which provided her the knowledge to grow her business. Rudo may have gone into entrepreneurship out of necessity, but the training she received enabled her to turn opportunity into a pathway for wealth creation.

Entrepreneurship should be demystified at levels of the African society and the skills for it to be grown, encouraged and built. Africa’s educational systems need to be redesigned to position youth to embrace entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship should be a choice for the continent’s transformation.

The future of work will depend on adaptable and transferable skills. Wealth creation requires a mindset shift so that entrepreneurship takes individual success to scale for the skills we have and those we need to create.


About the Authors

Elizabeth Bintliff is an educator and development professional currently serving as CEO of JA Africa

Carl Manlan is an economist from Côte d’Ivoire currently serving as the Chief Operating Officer of the Ecobank Foundation.

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