The growing problem of youth unemployment in Africa is a major concern of many governments. According to recent estimates by the World Bank, more than 10 million young Africans, often poorly skilled, leave the school system every year in search of jobs in local employment markets which are not expanding fast enough to create jobs. Many of these job seekers lack the requisite skills employers want. Without employment-related skills, school leavers cannot benefit from even the minimal employment opportunities that may be available to job seekers.
Young people without jobs or hope for a better future live a daily life of frustration. Such frustration, co-mingled with desperation and loss of self-confidence, may push some of them into a life of violence and crime. Others, as we have seen in the recent past, may embark on the often perilous journey of illegal migration across the Mediterranean to Europe. Much worse is the possibility of unemployed youth becoming victims of religious and political manipulation to be used as instruments of politico-religious violence or combatants in armed conflicts. Youth unemployment therefore poses a threat to political stability, national security and social cohesion. Supporting the young to acquire job-related skills is therefore a key development issue which must engage the attention of national leaders.
TVET and Workforce Development
Technical and vocational education and training (TVET) is the most practical avenue for acquiring readily employable skills for the world of work. Africa needs skilled workers. In particular, competent artisans and technicians are needed to fill skills gaps in various sectors of the economy, including the building and construction industry, power and energy plants, water distribution and sanitation systems, and large public works. Adequately trained workers are also in short supply in the hospitality and agro-processing sectors. Furthermore, African countries need highly skilled technical personnel to drive the agenda of transforming their economies through value-addition to their primary commodities and natural resources. Well-functioning TVET systems are best placed to train the skilled workforce which Africa needs to address its socio-economic development challenges.
However, until recently TVET has not received the attention it deserves in the human resource development strategy of many countries. The TVET sector has often been marginalized in the allocation of resources in national education and training budgets. Financial allocations to the TVET subsector, as a percentage of the national education budget, varies across countries, but rarely exceeds about 11% in Mali. In Togo, the allocation is as low as 1%. In Ghana, the TVET subsector was allocated only 3.7% of the education budget in 2014, compared with 22% for the senior secondary education subsector. Such low levels of funding for TVET are not enough to train learners to the desired quality of competence.
The good news, however, is that many governments have now come to appreciate the role of TVET in national development and are rolling out strategies to develop the practical talents of their young people to support economic growth and industrialisation. Over the past decade or so, many countries have developed policies, strategies and legal frameworks aimed at reforming and strengthening their TVET systems. Among such countries is Rwanda, which has established a Workforce Development Authority and Ghana, whose Council for TVET (COTVET) is mandated by law to oversee, coordinate and harmonize skills development at all levels in the country.
There is now general awareness that the acquisition of employment skills is a key element in the fight against poverty and that, at the national level, a skilled workforce is an important driver of economic growth. Managers of national economies have understood that, although foreign direct investment (FDI) is dependent on a complex blend of internal and external factors, the availability of a skilled workforce is a major pull factor for FDI. The African Union has also recently ratified a Continental TVET Strategy to foster youth employment and constituted a TVET Expert Group to support the adoption and implementation of the TVET strategy by member states.
Acknowledging the importance of TVET and the formulation of policies and strategies are not enough to unleash the full potential of TVET for sustainable socio-economic development. Increasing investments in the TVET sector and building a strong strategy implementation capacity are important, but a paradigm shift in TVET provision is required. The key dimensions of such a paradigm shift may be summarized as follows:
1. Improving the relevance, quality and employability of training
Training for high-quality skills requires appropriate training equipment and tools, adequate supply of training materials, and practice by the learners. Other requirements include relevant textbooks and training manuals, qualified instructors with experience in enterprises, and participation of industry practitioners in training delivery. Assuring the employability of trainees begins with effective guidance and counselling of potential learners in the choice of training programmes in relation to their aptitude, academic background, career ambitions, as well as current or future job openings. The notion of employability presupposes that the skills needs of the labour market should drive training provision. There is therefore the need for dynamic labour market information systems which track current and future skills needs in the economy.
2. Improving the policy environment and management of training provision
Technical and vocational education and training by itself does not automatically result in economic growth or provision of jobs or eradication of poverty. Rather, TVET requires an economic policy environment that promotes the creation and growth of enterprises and stimulation of the economy. When businesses grow or expand, demands for new or additional technical and vocational skills emerge, new training opportunities arise, and additional jobs are created.
Furthermore, skills training systems are greatly enhanced by a strong management and leadership capacity to drive the entire system. TVET system managers with multiple professional and pedagogical skills are therefore needed within the TVET delivery chain. This must have multiple implementation structures, including the accreditation of training providers and instructors, assessment of learners, and training quality assurance.
3. Ensuring flexibility of training and life-long learning in TVET provision
The skills of the workforce can be continually upgraded within the context of lifelong learning, where employees are able to sharpen or develop their skills in tandem with changes in technology at the workplace. Also, lifelong learning opportunities allow learners who have had limited access to training in the past to have a second chance to build on their skills and competences, or have their previously acquired skills certified through the mechanism of recognition of prior learning. A TVET National Qualifications Framework is the tool that helps to promote training flexibility and coherence, lifelong learning and recognition of prior learning within the TVET system. Qualification frameworks are useful for standardizing, formalizing and certifying skills qualifications across the entire spectrum of formal and informal training. In the new paradigm of skills development, a qualifications framework is a necessity.
4. Integrating ICT into TVET
The introduction of ICT and e-learning methodologies into TVET provision can contribute to quality improvement, technological innovation and increased outreach and access to learning opportunities. However, technology-mediated learning will require curriculum with appropriate digital content, access to electricity and computers, internet connectivity, changes in institutional teaching and learning culture, and adequate budgets to cover operational, maintenance and equipment replacement costs. Although many countries in Africa have developed national ICT policies and are mobilising resources for ICT infrastructure development, progress is slow. Negotiating the transition from policy to practical learning experiences will involve appreciable capital outlays and government-industry partnerships. Nonetheless, investments in this sector of technology are worthwhile in enabling Africa to catch up with the rest of the world.
5. Revamping the manufacturing and agricultural sectors
Revitalizing the manufacturing, agriculture and agro-processing sectors in Africa offers enormous possibilities for industrialisation and employment generation. In this regard, the most important ingredient for success is the availability of a highly skilled domestic technical workforce. It is therefore important for countries in Africa to implement policies and strategies which promote the learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at all levels to facilitate the development of higher order skills which are necessary for modernising or revamping local manufacturing industries.
Investing in TVET is investing in national socio-economic development. TVET holds the key to technological progress, rapid industrialisation, wealth creation and poverty reduction. African governments should therefore allocate adequate resources for modernising teaching and learning facilities in TVET institutions, as well as the training and continuous professional development of TVET teachers. Tax policies or taxation regimes which can incentivize industry to support skills development – such as tax rebates for companies providing experiential learning internships to learners, or training equipment support to TVET institutions – should be encouraged. Finally, governments should actively encourage the domestic production of goods and services , along with value-addition to primary commodities, in favour of overseeing an economy that is dominated by the importation and selling of foreign products on the domestic market. TVET plays its role as a catalyst for socio-economic development more effectively when local manufacturing enterprises become more vibrant.