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Increasing Regional Collaboration for youth labor mobility to expand job opportunities and skills development for young people – ACET

World NewsIncreasing Regional Collaboration for youth labor mobility to expand job opportunities and skills development for young people – ACET


By 2050, with an estimated population of 2.5 billion – one in every 4 people walking this earth will be an African. With half of these people projected to be under 25, we have more people entering the labour force than in any other region of the world. This can either be an opportunity or a threat. At ACET we fundamentally believe it an opportunity we can use to transform our economic and social landscape.  


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure and honour to be here with all of you today.  I would like to thank the organisers of the Youth Connekt Summit and to our partners at the International Organization for Migration for co-hosting today’s panel.   

At the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) we are committed to working with young people, national governments, business to economically transform Africa within a generation. I am particularly excited to be here today to set the scene for today’s discussion on how we can ensure that regional integration enables talented young people across Africa to use their expertise in any of our countries.     

Securing Africa’s Future is not just about ensuring our young people can acquire the skills necessary to succeed in a rapidly changing world. It is also about ensuring those skills are recognized and can be utilised across the continent. Africa’s talent pool cannot be just country-specific, it must be continental if we are to successfully transform our economies.   

Why is this important?   

You have heard these statistics before, but we must keep stating them if we are ensure our policy makers are listening and taking note of our recommendations. First, we have a growing population and a youth bulge: Today 1 in 5 five people under the age of 25 live in Sub-Saharan Africa – we are the world’s youngest region.    

By 2050, with an estimated population of 2.5 billion – one in every 4 people walking this earth will be an African. With half of these people projected to be under 25, we have more people entering the labour force than in any other region of the world. This can either be an opportunity or a threat. At ACET we fundamentally believe it an opportunity we can use to transform our economic and social landscape.   

Second, most of our young people today do not have the technical skills and core competencies to secure jobs in a rapidly changing jobs market. A recent ACET study on the future of work covering six African countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Niger, Rwanda, and Uganda) noted that a significant proportion of young people are missing out on employment opportunities because they do not have the necessary skills. At least 20% of secondary school graduates in all 6 countries required additional training in ICT literacy, leadership skills, communication skills and problem solving.   

Third, we are not creating jobs as a fast enough pace to absorb our entrants into the labour force. We need to create at least 1million decent jobs each month to ensure our new entrants into the job market can be gainfully employed — we are far from that goal. We are only creating 3.1 million jobs per annum, leaving the majority of our new entrants unemployed. 

Fourth, we are bleeding talent. In their failure to secure jobs, many young Africans are ‘hustling’, working low-paid jobs or migrating out of the continent in search of economic opportunities. According to the AU, between 2008 and 2017, international migration of Africans increased by a staggering 91.2% from 13.3 million to 25.4 million. Most of these migrants were between the ages of 15 and 35 years.   

Finally, we do not facilitate labour mobility across the continent to enable young people to find jobs in other countries.    

While many countries in Africa grapple with persistently widespread unemployment and unutilised labour, many domestic and foreign companies within the region lack access to the right people with the right skills within their national borders.   

An ACET study on labour mobility in West Africa identified language barriers, variations in educational systems and qualifications, national protectionist laws, poor transport infrastructure, security and bilateral disputes as barriers. Ironically many highly skilled Africans find it easier to migrate outside the continent than within it.   

As a continent, our orientation about migration should not about how to stop it but rather how to make it an integral part of the development and growth strategy of the continent.   So, what is the way forward?   

First let me acknowledge our amazing and dynamic youth population who have time and time again demonstrated they are innovative and resilient. Even in an environment where job opportunities don’t come close to meeting demand, you find ways to make it work and to shine locally and globally.    

Your generation inspires me all the time – from the young Nigerian woman whose banking app is linking susu groups with financial institutions to facilitate their entry into the formal financial sector whilst enabling the bank to tap into a tried and tested credit history of their new clients – to the young and successful Ugandan/Rwandese artist who sells his art across the continent and globally – I have a few pieces – who has set up art studious to teach other young artists how to improve the quality of their art and exhibit locally and globally. In health, education, technology, the arts, agriculture – you name it – young Africans are shining!   

But shining should not be enough. Our dynamic and driven youth should be thriving and operating at scale. To do this you need the right enabling environment in which your talent, skills and innovations can be fully exploited.    

At ACET we believe strongly that a unified Africa is the best way to achieve transformative growth. We celebrated the launch of the African Continental free Trade Area because it can open up opportunities job creation. Through the AFCFTA we have created the world’s largest single market of over 1.3bn (and growing) people. Effectively implemented, it is estimated that it will lead to the creation 14 million jobs per annum.   

But we risk not being able take advantage of this opportunity if talent mobility across the continent remains as it is. We need an environment which ensures we have the right skills in the right place at the right time. So whether we are producing vaccines, developing technology, working on climate climate solutions, building a publishing industry or improving agriculture productivity – the solutions have to transcend borders, and skills and people have to follow suit.    

At ACET we have three simple policy recommendations to make labour mobility possible:   

First, make the movement of people easy. Countries across Africa need to adopt common standard procedures, including flexible national labor and immigration policies and  the granting of permits and licenses to facilitate employment of professionals and skilled personnel from the region.  We need to introduce a digital identification that is recognized by every African country and use this to develop reciprocal agreements in terms of relocating people and skills. More countries need to sign and ratify the AU Protocol on Free Movements of Persons in Africa. Tabled in 2018, 30 countries have signed but only 4 have ratified.    

Second, set an African standard for qualifications and degrees that is accepted it in every country on the continent. We need to create and enforce a common framework to mutually recognize the substantive equivalence of accreditation systems, programs, and educational certificates across all participating countries.   

We need to prioritise effective implementation of frameworks such as the ECOWAS convention on the recognition and equivalence of degrees, diplomas, certificates and other qualifications and the AU’s African Continental Qualifications Framework (ACQF). This will ensure that Precious Musomali’s Biotech degree is not only viable in Malawi but is recognized and accepted in Ghana and she does not have to go through additional training to be considered qualified to work here.     

Third, establish a regional Labor Market Information System (LMIS). This will be an African-wide skills database that enables companies to search for the skills and people they need, regardless of where they live. To set up a regional system, individual countries will need to invest in and strengthen their own labour market information system that aggregates intelligence on the skills available today and the skills needed in the future.  

This way if a company sets up shop in Senegal, their best staffing plan might include engineers from Kenya, IT support experts from South Africa, logistics specialists from Mozambique, and communications specialists from Mali. Imagine if they could have that information at their fingertips – a way to search for and reach out to people with the skills they need regardless of where the people with those skills are located in Africa.   

Doing this is not beyond or capacity and we have an excellent example in the East African Community that we can scale-up. EAC countries recognise certification and qualification of architects, engineers, and accountants across member states and are preparing to extend it to lawyers, pharmacists, and veterinarians.   

Doing this does not just about addressing the disconnect between the demand and supply of skills I referenced earlier.  It also makes economic sense. We’ve all read the data about the positive impact migration has western economies. The same is true for us. The OECD estimates that immigrants in Cote’ d’Ivoire contribute 19% of the country’s GDP.  

In Ghana and South Africa, on a per capita basis, the contribution of immigrants to the government’s fiscal balance exceeds the contribution of the native-born population.  Migrants across Africa generate additional employment opportunities in their host countries.  

For source countries, remittances and their impact on development are widely known as a key beneficial aspect of international migration.  In short, the underlying economic rationale for talent mobility is that skilled labour should be able to move to where it is most needed to balance the regions human capital markets, improve competitiveness and stimulate economic growth. Doing this will also enable us to build centres of excellence across the continent that can compete globally.     

This is important to ensure that, by 2050 not only will we represent the largest regional market in the world but we will also have the labour force to produce for the other regions whose populations will either be stabilising or declining.     

At the African Center for Economic Transformation, we have a relatively new but fast-growing Youth Employment and Skills program, headed by my younger African Mona Iddrisu who will moderate today’s panel. We’ve insisted on this program because we know that young people are not only the future, they are today’s leaders and thinkers and do-ers.    

They – well, you – are driving our innovation, transformation, and excellence now, setting new standards and forging paths beyond what has been predestined for Africa by the rest of the world.  There is an old African proverb that says “It is the young trees that make up the forest.”    

Those of you tuned in today and here in the room have an opportunity and responsibility to keep pushing forward, and we in the policy space need to ensure that we create space for you and your ideas to grow into your vision for the future.    

Thank you 

Delivered by Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, Executive Vice President, ACET as Keynote Speech at Youth Connekt Africa Summit on November 21, 2021.



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