Despite Africa, particularly the sub-Saharan region having a low literacy rate, there is a big gap in education and the labour market.
According to a survey by Allianz, attracting and retaining skilled workers is a global challenge, as 69% of companies report talent shortages (the highest shortage in 15 years). Skill shortage has been termed as one of the most significant risks facing businesses worldwide. Notably, from late 2020 and April 2021 till now, the world has experienced “The Great Resignation.”
Africa is not an exception, and there is increased demand for highly skilled workers. Despite Africa, particularly the sub-Saharan region having a low literacy rate, there is a big gap in education and the labour market. Some education experts fear that many Africans are not learning the skills they need for 21st-century jobs.
This post explores different aspects of the shortage of skilled workers in Africa and possible solutions.
As outlined above, there is a global labour shortage, and Africa is part of it. Africa faces a shortage of skilled workers across various sectors, from logistics, agriculture, tourism, healthcare, IT, infrastructure, finance, and banking to construction. Surprisingly, unemployment remains high.
Let's explore a few examples of skilled labour shortages in different African countries:
African countries have experienced increased infrastructure projects worth billions of money. However, South Africa and Kenya have challenges accessing skilled labour within the construction industry.
According to John Mathews, Chairman of the Master Builders Association Educational Trust, South Africa will likely run out of skilled carpenters, electricians, bricklayers, plumbers, painters, and plasterers in the next few years.
Further, the Institute of Quantity Surveyors of Kenya (IQSK) estimates that the labour-to-building cost ratio has grown to 25% in 2022 from 20% two years ago. In Nairobi, Kenya, the cost of hiring plumbers, masons, or painters is rising, and they’re in short supply.
Another study found that construction firms in Nigeria were paying extra money for labour, and construction projects were often delayed due to skilled labour shortages.
According to Oxford Business Group, Ghana's IT sector is multiplying but faces a shortage of skilled and qualified labour, such as coders and developers. As a result, most of the work is outsourced.
Also, another joint study conducted by the IFC and the World Bank in 2021 found an extremely high demand for digital skills in Kenya and Nigeria. The study also forecasted that about 2 million jobs will require digital skills by 2030 in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to Paul Stone, DHL Supply Chain Africa’s CEO, there is a shortage of skilled workers in South Africa’s logistics industry. He cites that attracting and retaining top talent has become a critical business priority.
According to Amref, Africa has a severe shortage of health workers, and it is predicted to reach 6.1 million by 2030. It’s estimated that Sub-Saharan Africa has only 1.3% of the world’s trained personnel.
Above are some cases presenting a demand for highly skilled workers in different areas of Africa. Now, let’s explore why there is a shortage.
Skilled workers are in high demand in Africa. However, the wages are low despite some African countries experiencing significant economic growth. As a result, skilled workers tend to migrate to countries with higher salaries.
A 2021 report by Randstad showed that 62% of workers globally rank salaries as the strongest motivator for changing jobs. Further, research showed that low pay was one of the leading causes of the shortage of skilled workers in South Africa.
The high cost of tertiary education has been blamed for the escalating shortage of skilled labour in Africa, especially in technical industries such as construction and manufacturing. Therefore, such a situation leads to low numbers of qualified workers with specialized skills.
Competition for a job among college and university graduates intensifies each year. As a result, qualified graduates accept jobs not aligned with their skills.
According to a report by the African Development Bank, the unemployment rate for people with higher education exceed 50% in Sub-Saharan African countries. Also, the report indicates that many education indicators in Africa have stagnated and even deteriorated and can hardly achieve education commitments by 2030.
In another study, the World Bank criticized universities for not teaching the cutting-edge skills that employers want.
Often, companies look for workers with broader skill sets than those who have retired or been hired. For instance, employers are looking for candidates with skilled workers with technical and analytical skills. Also, depending on the position, employers may need a skilled worker with soft skills such as leadership, communication, project management, etc. Often, many entry-level candidates may hardly meet the skill set requirements.
Technology has impacted the economy in a significant way and led to rapid changes across all industries in Africa and the entire world. Consequently, it has led to increased demand for workers with technological skills. However, the supply is still low in the labour market.
Now that we understand what’s causing the shortage of skilled workers in Africa let’s look into possible and practical solutions.
Institutions of higher education in African countries should focus on teaching and training potential workers with skills needed in the market. Additionally, employers may partner with tertiary institutions to address the specific skills required in their industries.
Kenya is one of the African countries changing the narrative. Early June 2022, Kenyan Government announced a partnership with Kodis Africa to introduce coding and computer programming as a subject in its primary and secondary schools curricula.
One of the strategies employers can use to address the need for skilled workers is training existing employees. The goal is to tailor them to fill existing skill gaps in their organizations, especially when there are limited resources. It can be done through in-house or outside training.
As outlined earlier, Africa is experiencing rapid growth. Consequently, the nature of jobs and skills needed in various industries is changing, and demand is rising. Among the skills on demand are non-cognitive and STEM-based (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) skills.
According to SMASE Africa, the current African workforce cannot fill the existing STEM-based jobs due to a lack of necessary skills and knowledge. Further, increasing jobs require STEM knowledge and skills in the 21st century.
Apprenticeships, training, and internships help students and potential workers with the on-job learning experience and training before joining the workforce. As a result, it enables them to improve and develop their industrial and soft skills.
One thing that affects an employer’s workforce long-term is their hiring process and who they hire. Therefore, employers must attract skilled employees who align with their goals and who is fit with their culture.
One solution for employers struggling to attract valuable employees is to hire remote workers within Africa. Hiring remotely gives access to a pool of talents suitable for some business functions. Workpay is one the leading and reliable platforms global employers can use to hire remote employees compliantly across Africa. It also helps them process a local complaint payroll for remote employees or contractors.
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