Is Africa’s Workforce Ready for Industry 4.0? (The 4th Revolution)

Industry 4.0 represents the fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing and industry. It is the current industrial transformation with automation, data exchanges, cloud, cyber-physical systems, robots, Big Data, AI, IoT and (semi-) autonomous industrial techniques to realize smart industry and manufacturing goals in the intersection of people, new technologies and innovation.

To Africans most of these terms are like words from science fictions. Africa is still struggling to adopt Industry 1.0 technologies like mechanical production; and Industry 2.0 technologies like electricity, specialization and mass production. Industry in Sub Sahara Africa (SSA) specifically is actually 1.0, 2.0 and a bit of 3.0.

Not being successful in effectively adopting 1.0 and 2.0 technologies, technologies of big singular massive machines and equipment whereby production is achieved by cranking out millions of identical products (Specialization, mass and mechanical production), SSA has however been able to leapfrog to adopt ICT (digital and mobile technology), an Industry 3.0 technology, as it is more social, transferable, and less a hardware technology.

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Industrial Revolution | Image credit: Spacenews

This is leading to many jobs in the region becoming more intense in their use of digital technologies. In a World Economic Forum (WEF) report “The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa” it was reported that in South Africa there is 26% increase in average ICT intensity of jobs over the last decade, while 6.7% of all formal sector employment in Ghana and 18.4% of all formal sector employment in Kenya occurs in occupations with high ICT intensity. This makes ICT, the region’s most advanced technology.

WEF reported that the region boasts of the world youngest population, with more than 60% of its population under the age of 25; the region’s working-age population is set to increase by two-thirds, from 370 million adults in 2010 to over 600 million in 2030; the share of this population with at least a secondary education is set to increase from 36% in 2010 to 52% in 2030; and that 15 to 20 million increasingly well-educated young people are expected to join the African workforce every year for the next three decades; but despite these impressive statistics, presently SSA still is under-prepared for the impending disruption to jobs and skills brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Employers across the region already are identify inadequately skilled workforces as a major constraint to their businesses, including 41% of all firms in Tanzania, 30% in Kenya, 9% in South Africa and 6% in Nigeria. It is suggested that this pattern may get worse in the future as in South Africa alone, 39% of core skills required across occupations will be wholly different by 2020.

The statistics in the report suggest that the human capital in the region is underutilized. For instance, the WEF’s Human Capital Index, which measures the extent to which countries and economies optimize their human capital through education and skills development and its deployment throughout the life-course, finds that Sub-Saharan Africa, on average, currently only captures 55% of its full human capital potential, compared to a global average of 65%, Mauritius, Ghana and South Africa top the ranking ranging from 67 to 63% while Mali, Nigeria and Chad where are the bottom with indexes ranging from 49 to 44%.

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The World Economic Forum’s analysis indicated that the region’s capacity to adapt to the requirements of future jobs (measured by assessing the quality and extent of its education and staff training systems, post-basic education attainment and breadth of skills) relative to the region’s exposure to these future trends (measured by assessing the impact of latest technologies, local economic diversification and complexity, employee productivity and unemployment) is low and worrisome.

According to the analysis, Kenya is best prepared for the Industry 4.0 in the region. It has the highest exposure and also a high-capacity, however its capacity is still lower than those of Mauritius, Rwanda, Ghana, which are all countries that along with Malawi have high capacity countries with low exposure.

Though, there is little disparity between countries’ capacity to adapt to the requirements of future jobs, African giants like South Africa, Senegal and Nigeria, all have low capacities far behind Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Ghana and Malawi, which are all high-capacity countries. However, among South Africa, Senegal and Nigeria, only South Africa has a high exposure, along with Kenya and Namibia.

South Africans high exposure to future trends somewhat increases their chance to adapt. Ghana, Rwanda and Mauritius, have a relatively high-capacity to adapt to the requirements of future jobs and are comparatively well-positioned to prepare themselves.

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The case of Nigeria is very bad, being the largest economy and the most populated country in the region. Despite having a young generation with primary education above 80% of the country’s population, Secondary education about 70% (4th highest in the region) and the highest percentage with tertiary education in the region, the country is still far low in capacity and exposure —suggesting that student is not acquiring the knowledge and skills required for today’s economies and societies.

Insufficient understanding of the disruptive changes underway was identified as the single biggest obstacle to future workforce planning, followed by resource constraints and insufficient alignment of firms’ talent strategies with their broader innovation strategies.

Collaboration between business and the education sector is also limited. In addition, there is relatively little collaboration among the firms that are seeking to address skills gaps in their own workforces as well as the communities around them, resulting in uncoordinated, potentially wasteful, efforts.

In order to build a workforce for Industry 4.0. SSA countries with low capacity should particularly focus on strengthening basic education as well as building a strong TVET. They should embark on urgent reskilling and upskilling, focusing in particular on strengthening higher education and adult learning.

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