Reimagining TVET for 4IR jobs in Africa

Reimagining TVET for 4IR jobs in Africa

Africa has an enormous opportunity to benefit from digital advances, but to do so it must prepare its workforce for a new era of technology and innovation.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is transforming the world with artificial intelligence, technology-driven industries, and digital services. But Africa is failing to prepare its workforce for this new era. Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) in Africa must be reimagined to equip students and graduates with the digital and innovation skills essential for 4IR jobs.

To benefit from new technologies, workers need digital skills that are in high demand and in short supply. This is a serious challenge for Africa, which already faces high unemployment rates, especially among the youth. The continent has the world’s youngest and fastest-growing population – it is expected to reach 600 million working-age people by 2030. These young people need jobs that can provide decent incomes and growth opportunities.

Policymakers, educators, civil society, and the private sector need to come together and reimagine TVET in Africa to ensure the necessary digital and innovation skills are taught and the youngest generations are prepared to meet the needs of the 4IR. The need for more robust technical and vocational training on digital and related skills is supported by recent African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) research. This includes a 2018 study on the future of work and a second study on education for the 4IR.

There are seven priorities to reimagining African TVET for 4IR jobs.

First, a more robust ecosystem that includes industry as a key partner must be established. A key challenge across the continent is that TVET policy and curricula are seldom appropriately informed by employers. Particularly in 4IR sectors, industry should help educational institutions understand current job needs. Such an ecosystem is necessary to improve access to high-quality and relevant career guidance and early exposure to the world of work.

Specific strategies must be developed that address the digital infrastructure gap in the context of technical and vocational education and training needs

There are few partnerships and limited coordination with private sector actors, and career guidance counsellors are often not equipped with appropriate awareness of the most relevant labour market needs in digital, technology, and innovation fields.

ACET’s research has found that even in countries with low private sector engagements, employers are willing to be more involved, as they see the benefits of having a more skilled graduate pool. But for this to happen, governments should strengthen the interface between the public and private sectors in developing education and training programmes and develop strong, well-structured, accountable public-private partnerships.

This should include further developing industrial digital hubs whereby manufacturers crowd in local technology firms, industry adopts new digital solutions, and governments incentivise hi-tech jobs. But this also requires appropriate digital infrastructure and digital policy that ensures firms have clarity on issues such as data security, data privacy, broadband access, and pricing.

Second, economic transformation needs to be placed at the centre of employment strategies. Economic transformation in Africa is slow and uneven. But without economic transformation the structure of employment is also slow to change. In most African countries, over 80% of workers are in the informal sector, either in traditional agriculture or in urban, informal economic activities, where under-employment and low earnings are pervasive.

Increasingly, the face of the unemployed or informal sector worker in Africa is no longer the uneducated man or woman, but a secondary or tertiary school graduate. In Ghana, for example, only 10% of the 200 000 who enter the labour force each year find formal sector jobs.

Highly skilled TVET trainers are in short supply, particularly for digital, technology, and innovation

Formal sector job creation has not kept pace with the increased number of secondary and tertiary school graduates. This increase in graduates is welcomed, but where job demand in the formal sector does exist and necessary skills and training of African citizens is absent.

This is due either to the supply challenge of poor access and quality of education or the demand challenge of employers’ need for specialised skills, particularly in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This gap will only widen as technology changes rapidly and education systems don’t.

African countries should accelerate economic transformation strategies that promote job creation and boost productivity in labour-intensive sectors, and ensure young people have the skills for productive work. Examples where such strategies are having impact include the modern role that Mohammed VI Polytechnic University is playing in skills development in Morocco, and the improving collaboration between industry and the Rwanda TVET Board in curriculum modernisation. Another is the support that Ghana’s National Entrepreneurship & Innovation Programme offers the emerging tech sector.

Third, Africa must foster digital leadership. The continent needs stronger digital champions, particularly at the highest level of government and industry. Around the world, the digital revolution and the policies that guide it have been championed by different kinds of leaders. In the United States, corporate leaders have driven technology adoption through the private sector, with government playing a limited regulatory role.

In Europe the European Union has pushed a ‘human-centric’ approach to digital policy that seeks a fair and equitable digital economy. China has epitomised a government-driven approach with clear objectives and strategies to position the country in a future digital world.

Such leadership is missing in Africa, and this includes the debate on the future of digital skills and TVET.

In most African countries, over 80% of workers are in the informal sector, either in traditional agriculture or in urban, informal economic activities

To inform work on artificial intelligence in Africa, ACET undertook a series of policy dialogues in 2022 and 2023, with interesting findings about digital leadership. The African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa is largely perceived as too broad and almost impossible to implement.

Regional institutions such as the AU Development Agency-New Partnership for Africa’s Development, Smart Africa and the regional economic communities are seen as having too narrow a focus and limited capacity. At the national level, strategies on digital, technology, innovation, and information and communication technologies are often divided among numerous ministries. And there’s a perception that decision makers (heads of state, ministers and so on) often have limited digital skills themselves due to generational factors.

A key recommendation is that the AU Commission and African heads of state intentionally champion Africa’s digital transformation. Smart Africa is a move in the right direction, but only represents a portion of the continent; additional platforms are needed to crowd in private sector leaders as key partners with the AU Commission and heads of state.

A fourth priority is to improve STEM uptake. ACET’s research shows that uptake and performance in STEM is relatively low. Improving STEM uptake at the secondary education level will require a holistic and coherent approach to tackling the underlying challenges. This is a necessary step to then evolve TVET learning.

A significant shift in STEM uptake at upper secondary level will require clear targets, matched by necessary resources and incentives for providers and students. Examples include addressing the shortage of qualified STEM teachers with the right subject knowledge and teaching skills in primary and secondary school. It will also require that STEM curricula are relevant and that resources align with STEM targets alongside accountability systems to help drive delivery.

To benefit from new technologies, workers need digital skills that are in high demand and in short supply

Governments should integrate 21st-century skills into TVET and secondary school curricula; ensure effective implementation of competency-based curricula in schools; and improve the effectiveness of curriculum delivery. Given limited public resources, governments will probably need to rely on public-private partnerships and ways to increase effective collaboration between schools to achieve economies of scale.

Fifth – build skills to build skills. Highly skilled TVET trainers are few, particularly for digital, technology, and innovation. Several policy measures can be enacted to help attract and retain qualified trainers. First, there must be clear and flexible pathways for becoming a TVET trainer with appropriate salaries – particularly in the digital and technology fields. There also needs to be effective professional development and progression in the profession for career growth.

It’s recommended that systems be developed as a partnership between government and industry for the ongoing and consistent training of trainers, particularly as technology is changing rapidly. Minimum competency standards should be in place to ensure that trainers are teaching up-to-date methods and practices. Establishing strong and formalised cooperation with the private sector on teacher training for TVET in digital, technology and innovation fields is paramount.

A sixth priority is to improve digital infrastructure. Over the past five years, some countries have improved physical infrastructure and lowered education costs. These policies have led to considerable improvements in secondary school enrollment and some improvements in TVET enrollment.

As TVET is reimagined to include a stronger focus on digital and innovation skills, digital infrastructure will need to keep pace. This includes low-cost and high-speed connectivity, cloud data storage, and computational capacity. Policymakers should be cognisant of the pervasive urban-rural gap in digital infrastructure.

Last, TVET curricula must be informed by industry needs. Close engagement between policymakers and industry is needed to ensure that standards and curricula meet employers’ requirements. In particular, curricula should include entrepreneurship and business skills training, focused on supporting non-cognitive skills.

Ghana’s government is introducing over 20 sector skills councils to help define and develop occupational standards that will underpin competency-based curricula and a national qualification TVET framework. The councils have representatives from unions, employer associations, business networks, large employers and the informal sector.

Addressing these seven priorities can help usher in new approaches and new partnerships for a TVET that’s fit for purpose for 4IR jobs. To do so will require commitment from government, willingness by the private sector, and resources from the international community.

But specific strategies must be developed that address the digital infrastructure gap in the context of TVET needs. Doing so will help ensure that when Africa’s working population reaches 600 million in 2030, more young people will be employed in decent jobs that contribute to Africa’s economic transformation.

Using its Youth Employment and Skills Pan-African Coalition for Transformation (YES-PACT), ACET is working with policymakers, civil society, academia, the private sector and the youth to bridge the skills mismatch and equip young people with skills for the future of work.

Image: African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET)

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