Africa has the largest population of young people in the world. By 2030, there will be 375 million young people in the continent’s job market. By 2050, one in every 4 people in the world will be African. This youth bulge presents a rare opportunity which, if converted into productive human capital, would significantly benefit Africa’s economies and the world.
Africa could seize this opportunity as it pursues a re-envisioning of its economic prospects. But this aspiration can only be attainable if education systems are revitalised, skills development philosophies re-set and job markets scaled to support the demographic boom.
The current picture is mixed – inspiring pockets of innovation and entrepreneurship on one hand, and perennial problems including youth unemployment, underperformance of key sectors such as education and underdeveloped systems in skills development on the other.
Reducing unemployment remains a persistent challenge, education outcomes continue to be sub-optimal, and skills development efforts are disparate. What can Africa do to catalyse more resilient and nimble paths to education and skills systems that facilitate a stronger future for the youth and for economies?
Shifting foundational gears
Undoubtedly, it would take a mix of mutually reinforcing interventions. However, strengthening education systems to meet the needs of employers and creating more job availability for young people would probably be the most foundationally astute solution.
There are notable actions already starting to happen in sub-Saharan Africa: countries focusing more on growing their economies, youth embracing entrepreneurial endeavours and governments prioritising youth-relevant national strategies and policies.
Young Africans themselves are clear about what they need. Participants in the British Council’s ‘Next Generation’ research series have consistently highlighted the need for more jobs, for expanded opportunities including in technical, entrepreneurial education and vocational training (TEVET), and for barriers to setting up their own businesses to be lowered.
Vital to these agendas – particularly the expressed needs of youth, is the urgency to cultivate education and training systems that can produce skills fit for the job market, scaling productivity and stimulating youth livelihoods as they become more employable.
Impacting through tangible trust
Youth employability is what drives the British Council’s focus on education and TEVET in particular; the organisation partners with institutions in Africa to strengthen the quality and efficiency of TEVET systems, for better student, institutional and employment outcomes.
At its core, TEVET is about equipping young people with skills for jobs. TEVET can be a direct bridge between education and employment and an important tool to help countries address the pervasive unemployment challenge.
Operating in Africa since the 1930s, the British Council’s work touches every phase of the education lifecycle – primary, secondary, TEVET and higher education – helping young people improve employment chances, career pathways and skills for success in study, life, and work.
This longstanding presence on the ground has given the British Council an intimate understanding of local contexts, enabling us to be trusted and to effectively work alongside local partners, particularly in TEVET work where such trust is essential for building cooperation, nuanced approaches and contributing to positive, sustainable change for the long haul.
Building more inclusive TEVET systems
An inclusive, intentional approach to work-based TEVET education that is equitable, underpins our work. We aim to benefit all young people, including marginalised groups and those with disabilities – many of whom drop out before completing secondary school or fall through the cracks afterwards.
The partnership is our ethos. In collaborating with institutions that have the capacity to help maximise positive outcomes for young people, the British Council draws on the UK’s expertise and excellent, diverse skills sector to foster inclusive institutional TEVET collaborations such as in South Africa, where our support is helping TEVET colleges better serve their communities
A TEVET mentoring model which connects a UK skills organisation with a cluster of three to four vocational training centres, authorities or colleges in partner African countries is promoting a focus on employer engagement, identification and addressing of key challenges at the local level.
Insights for more effective action
Research and evidence-driven work is crucial to improving TEVET. Consequently, the Research Base conducted a study commissioned by the British Council on the relative effectiveness of TEVET reforms on employment outcomes. The research showed that TEVET has a positive impact on employment, as well as wider benefits, but TEVET systems will need to evolve to support citizens in navigating changing labour markets and developing the skills required to enhance employability and respond to development goals.
Similarly, the full benefits of TEVET cannot be realised with women’s participation in TEVET severely constrained by physical barriers, inequitable and restrictive cultural gender norms, attitudes, biases, and stereotypes. The British Council’s Programming TEVET with a Gender Lens tool is helping us deliberately mainstream gender equality in our work.
The importance of addressing climate change by greening TEVET sustainably is becoming front of mind. The British Council is finalising a benchmarking tool to be used to assess how ‘green’ a national TEVET system is and help develop ‘greening’ capacity in TEVET systems. The tool has been piloted in our work in Botswana and Tanzania with encouraging results.
Programming that makes a difference
Throughout our TEVET work, we have learnt that a twin interdependent track approach of keeping TEVET policy and practice aligned, local expertise and globally recognised good practice inter-twined, makes for more effective system support, be it technical assistance, capacity building or supporting partnerships between TEVET institutions.
Through our Going Global partnerships programme, we ensure that TEVET systems are globally connected and meet the needs of our societies, economies and students.
In eight African countries including Uganda, Mauritius, South Africa, via VET Toolbox we have provided targeted expertise, grants, tools and advice that have built TEVET system capacities. This support cuts across many areas of the British Council’s competencies – curriculum review, training standards, gender mainstreaming and labour market analysis.
Giving people better opportunities to gain meaningful employment is always in view in our support. .I-WORK (Improving Work Opportunities – Relaying Knowledge) advanced this through inclusive and employer-led education approaches. An Apprenticeship System Assessment Tool developed by the British Council helped with drafting Ghana’s first national apprenticeship policy.
To help build a sectoral approach to TEVET skills development, the British Council is supporting the development of four centres of vocational excellence (CoVEs) in Malawi under the EU-funded Zantchito skills for jobs technical assistance project. These will ensure training is high quality, catalyses good practice and promotes innovation in south-south collaborations.
A potential dividend beckons….
Young talent and skills could become one of the most globally sought-after assets in Africa in just under two decades. Accelerating and scaling TEVET access, relevance and impact will be crucial for much-needed job creation, skills, enterprise, and social equity across the continent.
Fixing the glaring education-industry-skills mismatch will positively impact young Africans’ lives and set the continent on a credible course towards a demographic dividend. The aspiration of increased employability, opportunity and social mobility for young Africans via TEVET would gain momentum too.