In June 2022, a young man in Benin's Sèmè City - a government-sponsored innovation campus for technical and vocational training (TVET), higher education, and research, as well as a business accelerator and incubator—proudly displayed what he had made using design software, 3-D printing, laser cutters, and other digital tools. He was bursting with excitement about his newly unleashed creativity to envision, design and build precision products in plastic, metal, or wood.
Young women and men are gaining practical hands-on experience and soft skills to produce and market high-quality goods and services at Ghana's Design and Technology Institute, a private TVET institute. Its programs in digital innovation, precision fabrication, and entrepreneurship, as well as master craftsperson training, exemplify a new trend in the modernization of TVET in Ghana.
These two innovative models are examples of TVET programs that can assist young people in finding better jobs, but they are the exception in most of Africa today. TVET is frequently viewed as a last resort for youth who have failed in general education, with few pathways to better jobs or further education. TVET enrollment is low, accounting for less than 4% of secondary students in Western and Central Africa. Traditional apprenticeships continue to account for 80-90 percent of youth in some form of training, but this training is not geared toward modern-day jobs. At the moment, more than 90% of the region's youth aged 15-24 work in the informal sector, where jobs are typically low-skilled and low-productivity, with few opportunities for advancement.
Analyzing Asian countries
Today, many African countries look to Asian economies with a track record of rapid growth, fueled in part by highly skilled workers (e.g., Singapore, South Korea, China, and Malaysia) for inspiration and understanding of their skilling systems transformation. For a small country like Singapore, which lacks natural resources, leaders have consistently recognized that people are their most valuable asset and have crafted policies explicitly to equip their workforce with skills to help the economy grow. Building the organizational infrastructure, designing governance frameworks, and creating incentives to align these programs with labor market needs and ensure agility in responding to new challenges in workforce development as the economy evolves took years of sustained effort.
Digital Economy Qualifications
Digital skills are a critical enabler for inclusion as well as the effective use, adoption, and creation of digital technologies in Africa's expanding digital economy. Such technologies have the potential to change the nature of both formal and informal work in a variety of industries. They are, for example, beginning to disrupt aspects of the informal economy by increasing access to existing and new markets, promoting financial inclusion, and speeding up cross-border trading.
Innovative pathways will be required for youth who are already in the workforce. Given the prevalence of mobile phones in Africa, mobile-friendly digital platforms present an especially appealing option for training a critical mass of youth in digital skills over a reasonable period of time and at a reasonable cost, and connecting them to appropriate job opportunities.
The solution must go beyond quick fixes. To give youth the opportunity to thrive in their jobs in an increasingly digital world, true transformation of skills development necessitates strategic leadership, depoliticization of skills development, and sustained investments in job-relevant TVET at both the secondary and tertiary levels.