The World Economic Forum Africa (WEF Africa) has identified seven skills that, on the one hand, are in great demand from the perspective of African employers, and on the other hand, are in short supply among young African entrants to the workforce. A focus on these seven skills by educational institutions, workforce training programs, and workers themselves, will play a key role in helping prepare young Africans to fill the skills gap within the African economy over the next decade.
According to WEF Africa, the seven critical skills young Africans should focus on are as follows:
1. Communication Skills
Communication skills are essential in every economy, and in every industry from the government to manufacturing, to high tech, to education, and beyond. The ability to express oneself clearly, concisely and appropriately is a cornerstone to success not only for work, but life in general.
It is equally important to be able to communicate well both verbally and in writing. Use of SMS messaging particularly among the younger generation has taken the focus away from formal writing. In a work context, it is important for workforce entrants to be able to express themselves in complete sentences with appropriate grammar, which is distinguished from the informal abbreviations used to communicate on mobile devices.
An especially important skill in the workforce is knowing how to communicate numbers effectively. Being able to capture data in a written presentation, either in slides or in a longer written report, is a valuable skill used to persuade decision makers through the use of data to support one’s proposals, or to demonstrate how one has achieved desired outcomes.
2. People Management
The ability to manage people is also a universally valuable skill and is often highly correlated to communication skills. The idea of emotional intelligence (EQ) captures much of what is required to be effective at managing people.
People management skills start with being a good listener. In order to manage other people – those senior, junior and lateral on the organisational chart – one must start by understanding others. What is important to them? What motivates them? Why do they work? What encourages them to do their best? How do they respond to different stimuli?
Being able to manage people to achieve desired outcomes involves compromise, teamwork, patience, and the investment of time in building relationships with colleagues, both in the workplace and outside the workplace. In order to manage others, one must first demonstrate integrity, empathy, and domain knowledge.
Being able to guide others is valuable to organisations of all kinds, and is a skill that will help to secure good wages and job security.
3. STEM Training (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math)
All good paying jobs of the future in Africa will require some measure of ability in STEM skills. While not every young person has a scientific or mathematical aptitude, it is important for each young person to find his or her comfort zone within some aspect of the STEM world.
For example, a young person with artistic skills may find that his drawing talents can be easily expressed through computer aided design (CAD), which in turn is a valuable skill in short supply on the continent.
Another example is film editing. With burgeoning film industries in Nigeria and South Africa, skills in this area are in demand and growing. This is another way in which a young person who may not be scientifically inclined can take his or her natural abilities and adapt them to the employment world that rewards STEM skills.
And of course, those with natural or developed scientific and mathematical skills are perpetually in great demand as engineers, computer programmers and research scientists, just to name a few. Many jobs demanding these skills are currently filled by expatriates from outside of the continent, and most of the African employers needing these skills would like nothing more than to fill these roles with Africans.
Development of STEM skills is a certain way to assure one’s place in the African economy of the next century.
Being able to see the big picture, and suggesting how to forge the way forward, is an important skill – one often tied to leadership, but a skill valued in an employee, no matter where he or she sits within the organisation.
An employee who is mindful of the broader trends and developments from around the world, within the industry, and among competitors, is a valuable employee. As change is inevitable, in the workplace and in the world in general, being able to anticipate change, and how one should react to it, is a special skill.
Sometimes the core to thinking strategically comes from challenging the status quo. What assumptions are taken for granted, but in reality, are likely to change in the future? For example, an employee of an NGO that receives funding from foreign governments would be wise to be mindful of the politics of those foreign countries and plan for alternative funding scenarios if the policy objectives of the donor countries shift with a changeover in their leadership.
5. Analysis and Problem Solving
Employers value young people who can assess situations and suggest solutions.
The ability to identify issues is best supported with data. For example, a young person working in a manufacturing plant may see a waste of materials as a result of the production schedule. Being able to calculate how much the company could save if tea breaks were scheduled not by the clock, but by when a production run is completed, would be a useful insight valued by senior management.
Traditional values and colonial structures in some parts of Africa may have tempered some workers’ inclination to be proactive and offer solutions to their elders and bosses. It is important for young people to couple their analysis and problem solving skills along with communication and people management skills in order to be effective in the workplace.
Glocal is a combination of global knowledge and local context.
As Africa joins the global economy, it is important for workers to understand the global context in which Africa competes. To which countries can we export our African products? What global substitutes for our products might compete against us in our own market? How can we benefit from research and technology, or best practices and other learnings from elsewhere in the world?
At the same time, the ability to apply this knowledge to the local market is essential. There are opportunities to work with global corporations in many African countries, and the capacity to translate global practices to the local market is a prized skill for those employers.
This skill is not only rewarded by global corporations; it is a valuable perspective to bring to a local company looking to grow its market share and is also a skill that will pay rewards to an entrepreneur seeking to define their role in the marketplace.
Finance skills are valued inside of traditional organisations where finance is the service being sold, such as banks and accountancy houses; but finance skills are needed in every sector, including government, religious organisations, NGOs, schools, hospitals, projects, festivals, artistic endeavours, and certainly, every private sector company.
Every organisation needs someone who can keep the books, and more importantly, review financial information and make insights and recommendations informed by the finances.
Even if one does not work in the finance function of an organisation, knowing how to prepare a budget for one’s department will be important, especially as one moves up the organisational ladder to positions of greater responsibility.
A young person who possesses some, or all, of the skills listed herein, will be well prepared for the African workplace of the future. Some of these skills, like people management, may be innate. Other skills, such as a STEM education, must be learned, but the ability to develop in each of these areas is something that young Africans seeking jobs can do to some degree on their own through online courses, reading from books at libraries, or approaching leaders in their communities for guidance and mentoring.
As the head of a large employer across the continent, Jay Ireland President & CEO of GE Africa said, “There is a shortage of skills in the workforce. Only 11% of African university students are studying subjects with potentially high employability while 70% are enrolled in areas that have huge numbers of unemployed graduates.” Therefore, it is important for Africa’s young people to develop those specific skills that will directly enhance their ability to secure employment, and from there, to excel and advance in their careers.