Unlocking Africa’s growth through employability-focused education

Employability by Divij Punvani, Growth & Analytics at Honoris United Universities

To build a stable and prosperous future for Africa, it is crucial that education focuses on employability.

A highly cited definition of employability describes it as “a psychosocial construct that embodies individual characteristics that foster adaptive cognition, behaviour, and affect, and enhance the individual-work interface.”[1]

Employability, as it relates to higher education, is generally defined as a set of achievements, skills, understandings and personal attributes, that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy.

Employability, therefore, is not just about getting a job, it is about a broader set of skills and attributes that will enable graduates to be successful throughout their working life.

The continent currently faces high levels of youth unemployment – a 2020 study has found that just over one in five youth are not in employment, education or training, with Northern Africa showing the highest unemployment rates in the world, at over 30 percent. Africa is also the only region where the youth bulge will continue to grow in the foreseeable future.

Conversely, the large cohort of youth now entering Africa’s labour force is the best educated one the continent has yet seen, and Africa is
witnessing its best growth performance in decades.

Africa’s youth thus provide a potent opportunity to harness the demographic dividend – but only if they have the necessary skills to thrive in the tomorrow’s labour market or create their own opportunities with relevant entrepreneurial know-how.

Providing students with the skills that they require to thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s world – rather than the skills needed in decades past – is thus crucial.

Skills of the 4IR

The skills that graduates require today are a big leap from those of yesteryear. In the 21st-century workplace, the life span of a qualification is currently 5 years instead of 30 as it used to be. Therefore, agility and flexibility is key, particularly in fast-developing digital fields, such as artificial intelligence. It also requires a wide range of cognitive and emotional skills, including behavioural intelligence, critical thinking, problem solving and communication skills.

Africa faces a significant skills gap ­– and in our rapidly evolving, technologically driven era, the impending developments with regard to the world of work and Industry 4.0 are bringing job-relevant skills into even sharper focus.

Closing today’s skills gap in Africa becomes even more urgent when considering that companies increasingly automate large parts of the production process and try to move supply chains closer to retail markets, mostly as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, so they will rely less on developing markets.

A pan-African approach to a pan-African problem

Ensuring graduates have the skills to match current and future employment opportunities is a pan-African necessity. At Honoris, the first and largest pan-African network of private higher education institutions, employability is key. It sits at the heart of the Honoris vision and mission with a focus on graduating world-class African talent.

The Honoris strategy on employability uses a data-driven approach, leveraging technology to bridge the skills gap between graduates and employers. The employability strategy is built on three key pillars.

Firstly, a strategic approach continuously tracks data on key sectors and in-demand skills to ensure that member institutions’ verticals and curricula are well suited to market needs. Honoris also measures performance on student outcomes across the network at 3 key milestones (at 6, 12 and 24 months) to ensure that graduates are enjoying rewarding careers.

Secondly, Honoris’ employability ecosystem management strategy identifies the top organisations in priority sectors and verticals, and leverages institutional relationships to engage with employers and enablers within the employability ecosystem.
As the most likely destination for graduates, employers are key stakeholders at Honoris institutions, and are actively engaged so that Honoris understands the skills they require, present and future. Honoris has over 160 partnerships across the network featuring household names, government organisations, SMEs and NGOs.

Finally, Honoris’ skills development and career services work closely with students to ensure that they have the skills to find the most relevant jobs, and the most job-relevant skills. This includes one-to-one counselling, career development workshops and webinars, speaker series, job readiness training such as CV development, interview preparation, and negotiation, among others. In addition, with 4IR skills always in sharp focus, students and alumni also have access to a comprehensive skills development programme including soft-skills training, digital skills, communication, problem-solving and teamwork.

Honoris delivers these services at member institutions though a seamless integration between digital and physical spaces. The digital career centre is an industry-leading platform that brings together students, alumni, companies and institutional counsellors for employability training as well as access to jobs, internships, mentorship, webinars and networking events.

The physical spaces, such as the iLead Lab at REGENT Business School, redHub for enterprise development, Collective Lab and The Honoris Career Center in Tunisia, work in tandem with the digital career centre and provide an engaging 21st century learning experience.

Honoris also runs the 21st Century Skills Certificate, which ensures students have the most desirable skills for Industry 4.0. Due to the pandemic and the changing nature of the world of work, Honoris has also partnered with Virtual Internships, a leading European EdTech to provide access to international work opportunities without the need for visas or travel, making it feasible for a large and talented African workforce.

Redefining job markets

While educational institutions need to ensure that graduates have the skills that employers require, graduates with relevant skills can also be instrumental in redefining job markets to create new employment opportunities.

Africa offers a limited pool of formal wage jobs, mainly because economies have, in large part, yet to transform structurally from low productivity agriculture to higher productivity non-agricultural sectors.

The continent’s youth have already found innovative ways to express their capabilities in the informal sector, such as through agri-business and household enterprises. With the necessary skills, today’s graduates could further transform sectors such as these into sought-after employment markets, thereby boosting economies.

Revitalising traditional markets with 21st-century thinking and skills would help boost economies, working hand-in-hand with the economic benefits that 4IR jobs would bring.

From demographic to economic dividend

Africa is a continent of tremendous untapped potential, with more than 420 million young people aged 15 to 35.

As Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, says: “We have a responsibility to turn Africa’s largest demographic asset into an economic dividend.”

Ensuring the young people of Africa are employable by equipping them with in-demand, 4IR skills, is crucial not only for their futures, but for the future of their communities and the continent as a whole.

[1] Fugate, M., A.J. Kinicki, and B.E. Ashforth, Employability: A psycho-social construct, its dimensions, and applications. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 2004. 65(1): p. 14-38.