Bridging the skills gap to unleash progress: Africa 2050 Series (Part 1)

By Impactful | 14 Nov, 2023
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Africa’s journey is nothing short of remarkable. It’s a continent that’s brimming with energy and potential. By 2050, Africa is poised to have a workforce of over 1 billion people, with an astounding 60% being under the age of 25. This demographic dividend offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for businesses to tap into the world’s largest labour force and use technology as a multiplier of impact on the continent and in lives.

To seize this opportunity, we – as individuals and organisations – must collectively tackle the challenges that lay ahead of 2050.

In this multi-part series on potential, we’ll set off on a journey to explore how, together, we can create a more progressive future for both businesses and individuals on the continent, using technology as a catalyst.

It all starts with understanding the table-stake: Africa’s skills gap.

An obstacle to progress rooted in inherited challenges…​

Africa’s skills gap has its roots, frustratingly, in long-standing infrastructural challenges. Many regions still grapple with issues like unreliable electricity, limited access to the internet, high data costs and a lack of basic services. These challenges limit the spread of education, making it difficult for citizens to access quality learning that can help them get ahead.

In the face of these challenges, acquiring essential technical skills for the modern world becomes a tall ask.

Nevertheless, we must remember that challenges are stepping stones. Africa’s journey is marked by resilience, and overcoming infrastructural hurdles is an opportunity to build a stronger, more inclusive future.

…extending to a poor talent pipeline and lack of opportunities

The skills gap extends further, though, encompassing a narrow talent pipeline and a severe lack of opportunities for skills development. Learning systems often lag behind current advances, resulting in outdated curricula that’s out of sync with the industry.

As if that wasn’t challenging enough, the absence of apprenticeships, internships, and learnership programmes scale the divide between education and employment. Graduates often find themselves ill-prepared to meet the demands of the job market and the world they’ll need to compete in.

But this is not a roadblock; it’s a call to action.

Some have already answered the call

The ripple of the skills gap extends all the way through enterprise and its C-suite – and while this presents many challenges, it also holds potential opportunities for growth and innovation in these same spheres.

A bridge to 2050 ​

1. Pressure on businesses

The scarcity of a skilled workforce presents a complex challenge for businesses across the continent. Research recently conducted by VansonBourne (November, 2022) indicates as much: 46% of businesses who lacked technical skills couldn’t meet their client needs, 53% suffered education innovation capacity and 60% have lost customers. This pressure forces organisations to innovate, adapt, invest and adopt in nurturing talent that can make a difference. Instead of being a burden, this pressure becomes a catalyst for so much more.s process, businesses not only become more resilient but also become more competitive.

    • Innovation: Necessity is the mother of invention. When businesses are faced with a shortage of skills, they often find themselves having to innovate from within. They develop new and more efficient ways to do things, exploring alternative technologies, and inventively solving in order to bridge the skills gap. In this process, businesses not only become more resilient but also become more competitive.

    • Talent development: Businesses invest in talent development programmes, both internal and external, to bridge the skills gap. This includes relevant, ‘on-the-job’ training, upskilling, and mentorship initiatives. As an example, The Cisco Networking Academy, launched at the South African State Information Technology Agency in 2010, has since trained over 1.5 million people, over a third of them women. By nurturing a workforce, organisations not only address the immediate skills shortage but also champion a culture of continuous learning and change, ensuring long-term sustainability, adaptability and progression.

    • Increased collaboration: The skills gap often necessitates collaboration between businesses, institutions, and entities. Stakeholders can work together to identify common challenges and develop specific solutions. This strengthens the wider ecosystem and builds a sense of shared responsibility for skills development and much-needed impact. A good example of this is Salesforce, which has partnered with Collective X, a private sector-led initiative aimed at addressing the massive gap between the oversupply of digital jobs and the undersupply of people with the skills to fill them in South Africa.

    • Global competitiveness: Businesses that successfully navigate the challenges posed by the skills gap will emerge as truly global players. Their ability to thrive in a challenging and constrained environment positions them as resilient and adaptable contenders.

2. Pressure on CIOs and technical leadership

Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and technical leaders are at the fore of this transformative journey. They are tasked with navigating the technical landscape with resourcefulness and innovation. The skills gap is not a roadblock but an opportunity for them to shape the future of their organisations.

    • Strategic planning: CIOs and technical leaders are forced to now reevaluate and refine their strategy. They must identify the critical skills gaps within their teams and develop strategies to address them. This process encourages a forward-looking approach that anticipates future challenges and opportunities, and how to turn them into their next milestone.

    • Resource optimisation: Faced with a shortage of skilled talent, technical leaders become experts in resource optimisation. They explore novel methods, automate routine tasks, and leverage leading-edge technology such as AI and machine learning to augment their capability.

    • Innovation and adaptation: The skills gap prompts CIOs and technical leaders to embrace innovation and adapt to rapidly changing technological landscapes. They promote a culture of experimentation, encouraging their teams to explore new tools and approaches. This mindset shift not only helps bridge the gap but also positions these organisations as drivers of innovation and progress.

    • Mentorship and development: Recognising the importance of talent development, CIOs and technical leaders become mentors and advocates for their teams. They provide guidance and support, facilitating opportunities for continuous learning and growth. It’s not a simple undertaking, which means many rely on solution partners to help them bridge the skills gap divide. In doing so, they not only address immediate skill shortages but also foster a strong, resilient and most of all, continuous workforce.

Africa is no stranger to challenges and difficulties. Grit and perseverance are hard-wired into our DNA and have helped us overcome insurmountable difficulty. The skills gap is no different. Together, as businesses, as individuals and as problem solvers, we can create the progress and impact necessary to enable citizens and future talent to thrive in an ever-changing world. If we can do that, we can realise the continent’s destiny as the world’s labour force by 2050 – and beyond.

So, what next? Which skills are fuelling this big need? Why those skills in particular and what do we need to do as a continent to better prepare young talent for them? That next step we’ll take in Part 2.

Join us in bridging the skills gap. Contact us:

Gavin Olivier

Talent Develoment Partner

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