Africa — the world’s most youthful continent — is bursting with the energy, creativity and ingenuity of some 200 million young people between ages 15 and 24. Young people in Africa are better educated than previous generations. And they have greater access to technology and other world-class resources than ever before in history.
The technology revolution has taken the continent by storm. As internet connectivity and reliable power improves, young tech-savvy Africans are increasingly harnessing technology to develop software products, services, and platforms that are tailored to their local markets. Innovation hubs are sprouting up across Africa as young people seize opportunities to create homegrown solutions to some of the tremendous challenges faced in their communities.
Indeed, technology is fueling innovation and growth helping to bolster the global market competitiveness, create jobs and increase productivity in African nations.
Yet, beneath the optimism and hope for the future, a time bomb is slowing ticking in Africa. Africa’s working age population of 15-64 years is growing at a quickening pace. By 2040, the continent will host the world’s largest labor force with an estimated working age population of an astounding 1 billion.
Young people in Africa make up nearly 40 percent of today’s working-age population, yet 60 percent are unemployed. The World Bank estimates that some 11 million youth will enter Africa’s labor market every year for the next decade. Finding productive jobs for young people is critical to the continent’s future.
The fact remains that Sub-Saharan Africa faces a severe shortage of highly-skilled African talent, all the while top employers on the continent scramble to find qualified candidates to fill managerial jobs.
While more African students are completing secondary school and entering universities, only 6 percent of young people in Africa are enrolled in higher education institutions, compared to the global average of 26 percent, UNESCO estimates. And a real mismatch exists between the African education system and the jobs in a knowledge-based economy. Too many young graduates are earning degrees only to find that they are not qualified for lucrative employment opportunities, largely due to the lack of basic, technical and transferable skills of graduates.
Building a highly educated and skilled workforce that aligns with the needs of the private sector and government is essential to sustain and grow African economies. Young people must be equipped with the necessary skills for jobs in a global economy to absorb the entry of millions of African young people into the workforce.
The African continent stands at a crossroad: will this time bomb gradually fizzle or explode?
For more than 60 years, The Africa-America Institute (AAI), a U.S.-based international education organization, has worked to build Africa’s human capacity by creating opportunities for empowerment for the next generation of African leaders through higher education and skills training, convening activities, program development and management. Our alumni are Heads of State, a Nobel laureate, and are among today’s leaders and managers in government, nonprofit organizations and the private sector in Africa.
Simply put, African youth need opportunities to succeed and win in today’s knowledge-based economy. For this reason, AAI is launching the AAI Future Leaders Legacy Fund, to provide bright, yet under-resourced African students with scholarships to earn degrees in top-performing African universities and vocational and technical training schools. Many of the scholarship recipients will be the first in their family to attend university. The Fund will also ensure that African universities benefit by receiving increased resources to retain and educate students.
With limited public funding, governments alone cannot take on the entire burden of preparing young African professionals for the workforce. Strengthening public-private partnerships will enable the private sector to directly inform educational institutions about their specific workforce needs and universities can revise their curriculum and training to meet local and global workforce demands.
IBM is investing $60 million over three years to fill the skills gap for technical talent in Africa through the expansion of its Africa Technical Academy and Africa University Program. In more than 20 African countries, IT professionals will now gain advanced skills in analytics, cloud and big data technologies, which are crucial to Africa’s economic and social development. As part of this program IBM will be training and certifying 1000 faculty members and 35000 students in 80 Universities across the continent by the end of 2017. The early success of the program is evident through the graduation rates.
The IBM certification program goes a step further by training university graduates with critical entry-level job skills that are in high demand by employers throughout Africa. Participation in this program is a win-win for African universities and leading private sector companies operating on the continent.
For example, in Kenya, IBM has partnered with the Kenya Education Network (KENET) to deliver advanced hands-on certification courses to faculty and students of 50 Kenyan universities. The certification courses aim to enhance job market readiness among university students by providing the technical expertise that both employers and entrepreneurs require in order to succeed in a fast paced growth market like Kenya.
IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, a global pro-bono program which deploys 500 IBM leaders a year to help emerging nations address their most pressing problems, helps equip the next generation of technical talent in Africa. A team of IBM experts worked with Coders4Africa in Senegal to train computer coders with business skills to complement their technical skills. In Kenya, IBM leaders trained 50 students and software developers at Strathmore University, using IBM’s Bluemix to develop mobile apps that address major challenges in Africa, with issues ranging from agriculture, security, micro-finance and vehicular traffic.
IBM Corporate Service Corps team members help to train Kenyan students code for the cloud.
Recognizing that IBM has the highest concentration of technical talent on the African continent, AAI’s Future Leaders Legacy Fund Awards Gala will present IBM with the AAI 2015 Corporate Responsibility Award, in recognition of its commitment to boosting the capacities of Africa’s people and institutions – including skills, technology infrastructure, governance and science and research.
Young people are Africa’s greatest asset. Investing in the next generation of African leaders will accelerate the development of the African continent. Given the right prospects and opportunities to strengthen their skills and talents, African youth can transform Africa – and, indeed, the world.
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