The Future of Work and Industrialization


Speech by former Ghanaian President, His Excellency, Dr. John Dramani Mahama at the Knowledge Event 3 of the 2018 Annual Meeting of the African Development Bank in Busan, South Korea.

Heads of Delegations

Ministers of State

Governors of the AfDB

Special Invited Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

This Knowledge Session is basically asking the very simple but very difficult to answer question: how do we tackle the looming unemployment situation the African continent is faced with?

That is all the topic for this morning, ‘Work and Industrialisation’ is about.

Yes, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is looming. Africa faces the disadvantage of not having really navigated the 2nd and 3rd industrial revolutions and yet has to contend with the 4th, with all its attendant innovations of science and technology – digital technology, artificial intelligence, robotics and all the advanced inventions we are seeing today.

All these must be viewed in the light of the ever-expanding youth bulge in Africa. With a rapidly expanding population, Africa has a reservoir of labour for production, and yet, this rapidly expanding population remains Africa’s greatest security threat, if we are not able to harness it into sustainable jobs for the future.

Africa will be two billion people by 2050. Nigeria alone would be about 300 million people by 2050. My country, Ghana would have a population of about 50 million people by 2050.

While looking at creating more decent jobs, we must continue our efforts to slow the population growth rate by ensuring a one hundred percent education of girl children and also empowering our women to have greater control of their reproductive rights. This should include access to family planning services, including the right to determine how many children they would want to have.

At the same time, Africa has huge potential. As President Adesina loudly proclaims, Africa has 65% of the world’s remaining arable land. Africa also possesses some of the richest natural resources in the world. Surely with such advantages, Africa must be guaranteed a future of work and happiness.

Alas! If there is any continent in which the Malthusian theory of population is becoming a stark reality, then it is Africa. Population is growing geometrically, and resources, production, jobs are growing arithmetically.

Let me share some statistics, which together with the ideas shared by the World Bank President, the Deputy Prime Minister of South Korea and Dr. Adesina on Wednesday, should put this morning’s conversation into perspective.

1. Available statistics indicate an average of 12 million African youth joining the already saturated workforce every year.

2. We are also told that, out of this number (12 million), only about 30% are able to find decent employment.

3. Only 30% because the qualifying 12 million are either low in skills sets, or have mismatching skills.

4. The remaining 70% of the 12 million are often left unemployed.

5. Let me also refer you to a recent AfDB data which said in a 2016 publication on ‘Jobs for Youth in Africa’ that, of the almost 420 million youths aged between 15 and 35 in Africa, one third are unemployed and discouraged.

6. Another group, also one third of the 420 million are what the AfDB describes as vulnerably employed in the informal, low productivity and low-wage sectors.

7. Of Africa’s unemployed youth, more than 70% live in rural areas and the female youth in particular face stronger challenges.

How then do we convert the burgeoning youthful population of the continent into a democratic dividend? We have over the years discussed and formulated various policies to ostensibly create jobs for our people. Indeed, in various meetings, suggestions and solutions have been proposed.

Africa does have huge potentials.

Smart Tech Agriculture and a comparative advantage in Agro-processing

Huge opportunities in the area of the Digital Economy and service industry

Development of light industries and expanding to heavy manufacturing industries

Value addition- through refining and processing of our raw natural resources among others.

Colonial attitude to work: We inherited an attitude to work from our colonial masters that glorifies white colour manpower and denigrates employment that requires use of manual skills. Graduates from all levels of the education ladder are therefore first and foremost seeking employment in the public sector or the formal private sector.

All our children take a first shot at entering university. It is only when they are unable to gain entrance that they consider entering the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector. So, the general impression of the TVET sector is that it is for drop outs.

I agree with the synopsis for this morning’s discussion that “today, employers face a shortage of critically needed skills and competencies. Africa faces an urgent need to transform its education models in order prepare for a future that is already upon the continent.”

First and foremost, we must achieve economic acceleration in order to throw up more sustainable jobs as the economy expands. African countries must grow above 8% per annum if we are to keep ahead of our population growth rate.

There is a mismatch between our educational systems and the needs of industry and the world of work. We must realign the focus of our educational programmes in other for our young people to be developed and ready for the future we are in. Science and Technology education offers our continent some of the best opportunities yet, and should be one of the key drivers for tackling unemployment. But that is eluding us because we are graduating many in disciplines where employment opportunities are limited due to saturation.

In the area of technical skills and middle level manpower in the science and engineering space, we are rather churning out much fewer numbers. These are the areas where the new jobs are evolving.

During my days as President, I often spoke about the misalignment of our educational curriculum and the fact that industry today, and in fact employers, do not need the high number of graduates in the humanities that our institutions are churning out.

After a number of meetings with large scale employers, recruitment agencies, young entrepreneurs who themselves could not get colleagues with the right set of skills to join them, I asked the Ministry of Education to liaise with other collaborating Ministries to organise a technical session to evaluate the skills industry needs.

That Session, which brought academia and industry together in 2014 came up with a number of recommendations, and agreed that our country, Ghana, does not need the high turn-out of MBA graduates, Historians, Literary Experts etc., but rather what we need are technically biased graduates.

Among many others, the outcome of that consultative session led to a renewed effort towards improving Technical and Vocational Education and Training through infrastructure upgrading of the various Technical Institutions. It was instructive to hear one business owner say, “labour is highly mobile now, I don’t want to invest in skills upscaling for new staff only to have them lured away by more attractive remuneration in rival businesses.”

The future of work in Africa is not the mass industrial employment model. It will be based on small and medium enterprises, run by young well trained entrepreneurs, who absorb innovation and take advantage of the new technologies to achieve efficiency in what they do.

Governments have a role to play. With the difficulty of securing start-up capital, we launched a Youth Enterprise Support (YES) Initiative with a seed capital of Gh¢10 million. In the first pilot, two thousand and forty-eight (2,048) business applications were received from young entrepreneurs. Three hundred and sixty-five (365) applicants qualified to the final stage and were invited to the Presidency to receive up to GH¢50,000 each in financial support, depending on one’s business.

This is an initiative that was also piloted in Nigeria and other countries and which we have to encourage because there are many young people with brilliant and profitable ideas but will not get the required support from the normal banking system.

Recently, Professor Emmanuel Nnadozie, Executive Secretary of the African Capacity Building Foundation, noted at a Forum in Accra that, “Africa needs high-productivity jobs at an average of about 18 million per year until 2035 to absorb the new entrants in the labour force.”

Can we attain that?

Yes, we can if we refocus the education of our young ones and ones yet unborn to align with the new global demands. We are talking smart infrastructure, we are discussing the use of smart technology on our farms, we are looking at how to build an effective digital economy that provides huge opportunities for entrepreneurship and businesses that serve the world from Africa

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