After the successive launches of the Skills Initiative for Africa (SIFA) project in Lomé, Accra and Johannesburg in recent weeks, it seemed important to me to comment on the topic of policies to develop youth employment. Indeed, the SIFA project aims to finance skills development projects in several African countries.
Because while demographic dynamism represents a great opportunity, it is also a huge challenge, as 440 million young Africans will come to working age in the next fifteen years. High unemployment rates and skills shortages are among the most pressing challenges facing Africa. There is therefore an urgent need to promote industries and economic activities that contribute to new job creations.
To achieve this, I believe it is crucial to implement new education and training programmes to equip young – and even older – people with the skills they need to live and work in the current context of transition to the digital economy. This transition will affect all sectors, including agriculture. Indeed, more and more farmers will be connected, and access to information will be essential for their success. Similarly, climate-smart agriculture will be based on an increasingly intensive use of new technologies. Let us not forget that the agricultural sector in Africa still employs 60 to 70% of the working population.
It is also essential to adapt the education system to economic realities: for example, in 2013, 75% of baccalaureate graduates specialized in literature, compared to 25% in science, when we know that the human sciences have little relevance to the economic sectors that hire in Africa. National education plans must therefore be properly adapted to national development priorities.
We must also disseminate the culture of e-learning in all our technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions and promote these institutions as true learning paths. We also need to train teachers so that they can teach the digital skills of the 21st century before they are overtaken by the upheavals associated with the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution.
To achieve these objectives, our states will need to invest more in education, by partnering with the private sector, development partners and universities, in order to strengthen curriculum standardization in our learning centres at the higher education level and in technical and vocational education and training.
It is very important to define clear training strategies adapted to the continent’s development needs, also at the regional level. The continental approach we propose provides a platform to facilitate the implementation of African-wide frameworks and to enable this sharing of experience. Education is our only weapon to prepare for the challenge of youth employment.