Human capital: Africa still has a lot of progress to make

The World Economic Forum recently published a report on an often difficult to measure reality: the economic value of human capital. The report, titled Global Human Capital Report 2017, measures the knowledge and its levels that enable human beings to contribute to the global economy throughout their lives. Each of the 130 countries studied in the world is ranked in this index, which unfortunately no doubt shows that Africa is lagging behind.

As often in these rankings, the United States and Western Europe are at the top, with a rate of more than 70% of development of their human capital. For their part, the countries of Africa, like those of Southeast Asia and the Middle East, are below 60%. On average, sub-Saharan Africa scored 52.97%, and this region ranks last good, according to the report. However, there are disparities in Africa that are sources of inspiration: countries such as Rwanda (71), Ghana (72), but also Cameroon (73) and Mauritius (74) the 60%. There is therefore no fatality. We will come back on this idea.

The World Economic Forum’s report explains that it has studied 26 countries south of the Sahara among which there is a great disparity of wealth. But, “despite this comparatively high regional diversity in income levels, the Sub-Saharan African region exhibits a number of similar patterns across all age groups and aspects of its human capital potential profile. In particular, Sub-Saharan Africa scores highly on the Deployment subindex, due to high labour force participation, with five of the top 10 countries hailing from the region”.

However, with below-average Capacity and Know-how subindex scores, the region as a whole has much to benefit from developing a greater share of its human capital from deployment beyond routine occupations”, experts noted. They are also concerned that the most economically and / or most populous economies remain at the bottom of the scale.

Thus, Nigeria and Ethiopia are at the bottom of the ranking, respectively in ranks 114 and 127. However, to moderate this finding, these two countries are also the most populous in Africa. South Africa, considered one of Africa’s leading economies with Nigeria, is ranked 87th. But the report is not just bad news. The two top-ranked countries in the region, Rwanda (71) and Ghana (72), owe their comparatively strong performance to, respectively, almost completely closed education and employment gender gaps and significantly improved educational attainment of the country’s younger generations. “Like Kenya (78), both countries benefit from the stock of know-how embodied in large medium-skilled employment sectors and comparatively strong education quality and staff training, laying the foundation for building their future human capital potential. However, all three countries still have room for further improvement in their secondary education enrolment rates, ensuring this progress is shared as broadly as possible across their populations”, the report stressed.

Quality secondary education is the cornerstone of the entire education system because it corrects the deficiencies of primary education and prepares adequately for tertiary education. The example of these countries demonstrates that there is a need for it, that there is no inevitability, and that Africa can also, when it conducts good policies, achieve successes. In the global competition for human capital, Africa with its growing youth, of course has a card to play.  In particular, it must ensure the training of its young people in the trades that are lacking on the continent: engineers, financiers, economists, miners, among others. There are pools of developing jobs, but the shortage of skilled African personnel forces investors to hire expatriates in certain sectors requiring special skills. There, too, there is no fatality.

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