[Column] Partnering for impact: How government and the private sector can advance skills development in Africa
Private sector participation needs to be viewed as not only valuable to education and skills development but as integral to it. At a national level, the private sector should be considered an essential partner in education planning and as advisors to Ministries of Education.
This important change of perspective should also see private companies recognise the role they play in society on an even broader level. This should not be merely out of a need to be socially responsible, but to secure their long-term sustainability within emerging economies. And, with this, should come a degree of commitment that surpasses 'traditional CSR'.
There are a few main reasons why this approach would not only be natural, but beneficial to the development of skills across the continent:
1. The private sector is ultimately 'the customer'
Skilled workers are critical to the economic development of emerging markets. And in Africa, we are facing a dire situation: a huge imbalance exists between the supply and demand of skilled workers needed to fuel economic take-off. There are many reasons for this imbalance, including the lack of affordable quality technical and vocational education and training (TVET) institutions and the stigmatisation of blue collar work.
The training that is provided by many existing colleges is often mismatched to the 'world of work', meaning that graduates aren't immediately employable. Such colleges use archaic equipment, work on old technologies, and are often under-resourced. This means that students who have a choice in where to study are unlikely to choose a technical college over an academic tertiary institution.
To rectify this supply and demand issue, the public sector needs to collaborate more closely with 'the customer' (the private sector), to map out a plan to make its graduates more employable.
2. The private sector provides a fuller picture of the new skills required in the modern workplace
When it comes to technical, practical skills that are needed in industry today, outdated lessons and old equipment are completely irrelevant to the current environment. The private sector can not only advise as to what the latest curriculums should look like for a specific industry, but can also help source the best equipment and training resources to ensure students receive world-class, modern training in their specific field.
As the potential employers of the students, corporates can also help set tests and exams, and can even partner on placement programmes to help place graduates in jobs when they leave school or college. If carried out effectively, this would result in the ultimate 'win-win' situation: government meets its employment objectives, and industry gets the opportunity to help shape the skills of the graduates it will eventually employ.
3. The private sector supports a systemic reform for long-term results
As a developing region, West Africa struggles to maintain robust skills development systems, and so, despite a large and growing working-age population, skills shortages and high unemployment result. Economic growth is hindered and employers struggle to fill vacancies for skilled posts. Intervention at this level requires working on policy reform and skills development strategies.
In this instance, one could posit that the private sector could contribute towards policy development - by shaping curriculums and internship programmes - provide technology advancement and training, co-operate with the gathering and analysis of labour market data, articulate future trends indicated by market demands, and mobilise support at a local level.
In recognition that government support alone will not satisfy the increasing demand for learners with vocational skills, many governments are encouraging the growth of private sector training providers. The Samsung Engineering Academy, for example, is well placed to provide the training, as well as incubate the skills needed for the electronics industry ecosystem. To date, the Academy has trained over 1 000 technical-skilled workers in West Africa.
In addition, Samsung's commitment to advancing women in the IT industry is also evident in what we have done in Ghana. An offshoot of the Engineering Academy, the Female Professionals in Electronics is dedicated to upskilling women and bolstering the participation of women in the technical field. Launched in March this year, we have already seen a number of successful stories coming out of the initiative, which is very heartening as we continue to help address the inequalities of the past.
There is a strong correlation between a skilled society and sustainable economic growth for the nation. The absence of the former inhibits the possibilities of the latter.
The private sector, in partnership with the public sector and other like-minded organisations, could provide interventions to improve education and skills development in Africa. But overall, the role of the private sector needs to change from one of financer to one of facilitator and influencer if we are to truly see the impact.
Abey Tau is Public Affairs, Corporate Citizenship Manager, Samsung Electronics Africa