Provide young people with new skills to meet the needs of a 21st century labor market, African Development Bank report urges

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“Youth must be prepared for the jobs of the future – not the jobs of the past,” African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina said on Thursday at the launch of the Bank’s flagship African Economic Outlook.

“Given the fast pace of change, driven by the 4th industrial revolution – from artificial intelligence to robotics, machine learning, quantum computing – Africa must invest more in re-directing and re-skilling its labor force, and especially the youth, to effectively participate,” the Bank president said.

The African Economic Outlook is an annual report that provides updates and forecasts of the continent’s economic performance. The theme of the 2020 report is Developing Africa’s ‘Workforce for the Future.’

According to the report two-thirds of Africa’s youth are either overeducated or undereducated. The undereducated share (nearly 55 percent) is considerably higher than in other regions (36 percent).

With 12 million graduates entering the labor market each year and only 3 million of them getting jobs, youth unemployment is rising annually. Youth unemployment must therefore be given top priority, participants heard.

The 2020 African Economic Outlook indicates that skill and education mismatches affect youth labor productivity indirectly through wages, job satisfaction, and job searching. Overeducated African youth earn, on average, 18 percent less than youth with the same level of education who work in jobs that match their education.

Also, youth who believe they are overskilled for jobs are 3.4 percent less likely to be satisfied with current jobs, and as a consequence may be less productive.

The report contains several recommendations for reversing negative trends and creating productive and adequate workforces. These include designing national strategies for education and skills development that include young people, school dropouts, workers in the informal economy, and in economically and socially disadvantaged groups.

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Hanan Morsy, the Bank’s Director of Macroeconomic Policy, Forecasting and Research, said the fourth industrial revolution offers challenges and opportunities for developing education and accelerating skills acquisition in Africa.

“African countries can achieve universal primary enrollment by just improving the efficiency of education spending. Investing in education and infrastructure offers a greater growth payoff than investing exclusively in either,” Morsy said.

The African Development Bank is addressing Africa’s skills gap through its support to scientific centers of excellence, such as the African University of Science and Technology.

The Bank has also invested in the Kigali Institute for Science and Technology, which provides world-class training in ICT at the Master’s level in collaboration with the Carnegie Mellon University.

Training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is critical to overcoming the continent’s “mountain of youth unemployment,” Adesina said.

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