– By Melissa Mambazo
The “Future of Work” refers to changes occurring within current socio-economic; workplace and workforce systems, affecting both present and future functioning of these ecosystems. It is closely linked to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and a growth in related technology and innovation factors such as automation, artificial intelligence, digitisation and professional skills – many of which are still evolving.
Automation and the demand for skilled labour will predictably put enormous strain on the already precarious employment landscape in Africa, particularly when it comes to the youth demographic. According to a report done by the Anzisha Prize, of the 2.1 billion people expected to join the global population between 2019 and 2050, half will be on the African continent – where access to stable economic opportunities remain limited. The youth segment accounts for 60% of total unemployment numbers in Africa, according to the World Bank. With a growing youth population, this unemployment rate is set to increase exponentially over the coming years.
In order for the continent to meet the Future of Work reality head on, and turn Africa’s large youth population into an asset for socio-economic growth, there needs to be a shift towards economic activities able to thrive in such an environment.
The solution may very well lie in youth entrepreneurship – more specifically – investing in and supporting very young African entrepreneurs. In fact, Deloitte lists “the expansion of the workforce to include both on- and off-balance sheet talent” as a core characteristic when it comes to the future of work. Based on research data across the board, it is clear that many traditional job roles will simply not survive the transition when it comes to what lies ahead when it comes to the future market place. Interestingly, a rising trend in entrepreneurship can already be observed across the continent – according to the African Development Bank, at 22%, Africa has the highest entrepreneurship rate in the world. However, this percentage is not nearly enough to overcome the challenges facing the continent. Instead, the role of entrepreneurship needs to be better understood as a lever for positive change within a rapidly evolving socio-economic landscape.
In terms of skills development, entrepreneurial training equips young people with agile, sustainable and transferrable skills that can be adapted to changing environments and situations. This is critical in a time where the future is uncertain. The ongoing COVID-19 global crisis has demonstrated just how quickly and drastically the entire socio-economic environment can change, and how those that are unable to adapt accordingly face dire consequences. In fact, entrepreneurship has proven to be the option that many have turned to worldwide as a means of financial support during this time.
From a job seeker perspective, entrepreneurship should be seen as a viable career option, and not just a last resort. While factors such as automation will likely result in job losses due to redundancy of manual job roles, the Future of Work opens up vast opportunities as companies increasingly look to more innovative and creative options offered by entrepreneurial ventures. Africa’s youth need to be exposed to and encouraged to consider entrepreneurship from a very young age so that they can take the steps needed to prepare for future socio-economic scenarios. A report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) quotes an estimate that 65% of children entering primary school will end up working in jobs that don’t exist yet. Parents, teachers and other role players that influence a young person’s choices therefore have to also familiarize themselves with what work situations will potentially look like in the future, and understand how entrepreneurship provides youth with a level of control over their own future.
As entrepreneurship is key to job creation, an increase in youth entrepreneurship will have tangible positive impact on communities, countries and the continent as a whole. More so when it comes to youth employing youth. The abovementioned Anzisha report, titled: The Very Young Entrepreneur Scenario for Africa, explains “the key to using entrepreneurship as a means of tackling youth unemployment in Africa is that our research and experience have indicated that young entrepreneurs hire other young people” (download the full report here). Youth entrepreneurship also acts as a means of pioneering innovative solutions that work within future technology and innovation-driven settings. And to successfully navigate future work settings, the journey has to start as early as possible with youth, especially those who already exhibit entrepreneurial traits or an interest in entrepreneurship.
Again, it is vital that educators, parents, the media and even business leaders expose youth to the fundamentals of entrepreneurship – in terms of both the benefits and challenges that come with pursuing such a path. Entrepreneurship can no longer be ignored – the global health crisis has catalyzed the process by the effect it has had on the workplace and workforce across Africa. It has highlighted the need for innovation and adaptability, and for people to have a means to earn a living in a way that is less reliant on often rigid and outdated traditional work systems. The disruptions to be caused by 4IR and the Future of Work are unavoidable, it’s all about being prepared for it – and youth entrepreneurship holds the key.