Digital skills crucial for Africa’s 15m new jobs target

Sibahle Malinga
By Sibahle Malinga, ITWeb senior news journalist.
Johannesburg, 04 Apr 2022

With Africa’s population expected to double and reach 2.5 billion people by 2050, the continent needs to create at least 15 million new jobs by 2025 to combat the unemployment crisis.

To obtain this target, governments will have to invest heavily in the tech and digital industries, and create green job opportunities, while modernising the agricultural sector to increase productivity.

This is according to the People’s Charter on Jobs in Africa, a report created by the Jobs Now Africa Coalition as part of its new #JobsNowAfrica Campaign. The interactive platform is designed to outline the scale of Africa’s unemployment crisis, where the public is encouraged to participate in a petition to urge governments and non-state partners to prioritise this pressing issue.

Following a six-month consultation process across seven African countries that account for a third of the jobs on the continent, including SA, the 40 organisations behind the coalition believe the continent is at the tipping point of what could be the economic breakthrough from the pandemic – but only if investments are made now to prioritise job creation and harness the potential of youth.

According to the report, Africa lost more than 20 million jobs at the peak of the pandemic. Without a commitment to invest in the digital economy, through developing new in-demand tech skills, the organisations behind the coalition warn the continent risks losing out on the next generation of leaders.

Figures from the African Development Bank Group show that while 10 million to 12 million African youth enter the workforce each year, only three million formal jobs are created, leaving more than half of the new entrants in the labour market unemployed.

The coalition stresses the importance of governments prioritising the creation of quality jobs more than any other issue, by channelling funds towards the tech and digital industries, while ensuring the successful implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area.

Edwin Ikhuoria, executive director for Africa at coalition partner ONE Campaign, says: “The African continent is facing an unprecedented unemployment crisis that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We cannot afford to keep turning a blind eye to this pressing issue that has fuelled the rising instability and insecurity across the region.

“Many of our youth are discouraged and slowly losing their spark and excitement for the future, and it’s shameful that not more is done to support them.

“Too much is at stake for us to continue with the current business-as-usual approach. Job creation must not be an afterthought but rather, tackled alongside other priorities such as pandemic recovery, healthcare and education.”

Nurturing new talent

The South African economy shed more than 270 000 jobs in the fourth quarter of 2021, with the country’s unemployment rate climbing to 35.3% and 7.9 million unemployed people, according to Statistics South Africa.

As part of the solution to the unemployment crisis, analysts have been calling on South African organisations to tap into opportunities presented by the gig economy, as the sector helps develop new in-demand skills and create new employment avenues.

The Harambee Mapping of Digital and ICT Roles and Demand for South Africa Survey found that digital skills and services have the potential to pave the way for over 66 000 jobs in SA’s ICT sector, two-thirds of which are entry-level roles.

Delivering his State of the Nation Address earlier this year, president Cyril Ramaphosa said SA is nurturing new growth and job creation opportunities, with a focus on emerging tech sectors, to help the millions of unemployed South Africans.

He said the present situation of deep poverty, unemployment and inequality in the country is “unacceptable and unsustainable”.

Pearl Thusi, South African actress and ambassador for the #JobsNowAfrica campaign, says: “Africa has been a contradiction for far too long. A rich continent with poor people! Before COVID-19, we thought we had a major problem of joblessness, but when the pandemic hit, we saw an increasing crisis of job losses.

“Africa lost more than 20 million jobs at the peak of the crisis. To the extent that people preferred to be infected than to be hungry because of job loss. Africa needs at least 15 million new decent jobs every year for its young people. Quality jobs more than any other issue should be the priority for governments. This is why the #JobsNowAfrica coalition is putting jobs back at the top of the agenda.”

While inevitably the fourth industrial revolution is poised to contribute to both displacing and creating jobs, its long-term effect should be an increase in employment opportunities, notes the coalition.

“The population of young people is growing faster than the ability of the continent to create job opportunities for them, and the gap is widening. That’s why #JobsNowAfrica is the contemporary discussion to have,” says Roy Telewa, CEO of Kenya’s National Youth Council.

“In Africa, unemployment and underemployment continue to be major obstacles to the full utilisation of human resources, despite relatively strong growth in the region over the last decade.

“We need to ask ourselves: how do we harness the growing population of young people to bring about a demographic dividend, in order to bridge the gap between the rising population and the widening employment gap.”