The skills conundrum 2022

Finding the patterns and fixing the legacy challenges to rebuild the continent’s skill profile for the future

The skills challenge in Africa remains an obstacle to growth. In South Africa, the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) was established in 2010 as a way of connecting people to skills development and to try and ‘address the bottlenecks’.  This issue has also been tackled by the Labour Market Intelligence Research Programme, the Organising Framework for Occupations, and by more than one expert, industry leader and government official. According to Mandla Mbonambi, CEO of Africonology, many challenges need a consistent and concerted effort to shift them from complex problems to skills development opportunities.

“Certainly, from a technology perspective, learning and development have to be accelerated to meet the demands of our current economic landscape,” he adds. “We need to find ways of connecting the two paths of economy and education to drive skills growth that allows for organisations to fully realise the potential of the continent.”

There remains an imbalance within the education system on the continent with education institutions not keeping up with the changing demands of the business world, and technology. The latter is a fast-evolving, ever-changing beast that has already created new jobs and roles and skill profiles while either eliminating or redefining others.

“We need to enable kids to flourish from a developmental level, from the foundation phase,” adds Mbonambi. “Many enter high school and are suddenly thrown into the deep end and this can limit their growth. It’s worth considering how the education system can introduce these concepts from an early age and stage, and then provide older learners with the life skills and tools they need to thrive in the outside world.”

The world has changed so significantly that education systems have to change along with it or run the risk of putting kids and the future at risk. The problem is that many schools are rooted in tradition and are leery of change. And change, right now, is relentless and fast-paced. Driven by digital transformation, change has become as certain as uncertainty and without a solid grounding in the skillsets they need to thrive in this world, youth will struggle. As will organisations. They will remain stuck in the lack of skills loop, unable to get the right talent at the right time.

“Organisations are continuously offering training and skills development programmes, but they need to go over and above this now,” says Mbonambi. “They need to become actively involved with tertiary education and with high schools and expose learners to the real world, the skills needed, and to the environments in which they will work. If we expose learners to real-life issues and scenarios, we’re opening their minds to the future.”

The idea is to bring learners of all ages into companies and get them engaged from the outset. By putting them into spaces where they can build on their understanding of industry, business, sector and expectation, they are more likely to make informed choices further down the line. It also bypasses an excessive reliance on the public sector to fill in the cracks that have formed between business and education.

“If companies take more proactive steps towards skills development throughout the education chain, then they benefit in the long-term,” says Mbonambi. “But this is not the responsibility of the private sector alone. It’s also critical that individuals also take those steps towards change, towards their future. Education and opportunity are one thing, but there has to be personal drive and commitment to make these work.”

As Mbonambi points out, skills development doesn’t happen in a vacuum. There needs to be a culture of self-learning and self-development fostered within homes, at schools and within organisations. This means that constant learning and development are consistently encouraged so people are constantly reminded and inspired.

“While we still have a long way to go and there are still issues inherent within the education system, the skills conversation is changing,” concludes Mbonambi. “Companies are becoming more engaged and using inventive strategies to engage the youth and drive skills development. And the public sector remains focused on changing the old dynamics to foster inclusion and growth. As a result, the next year will likely see continued investment into skills development, and a shift in how companies engage with, and recruit, talent on the continent.”

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