Creating future entrepreneurs for the world’s largest workforce…Africa

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Next year JA (Junior Achievement) Africa will chalk up 40 years of empowering the continent’s youth with entrepreneurial business skills. I know that the organisation’s programmes are needed now more than ever.

Africa is set to have the world’s largest workforce by 2030 according to the United Nations. However, if the continent is to harness the capacity of that workforce and become a global industrial and economic colossus, then considerable effort is needed in the coming years. At present, the continent is playing catch up, particularly with the likes of Europe, North America and the Far East, in how the workplace and the needs of the workforce are changing with the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, in his book the Fourth Industrial Revolution acknowledged that Sub-Saharan Africa, which has a population in excess of a billion people, is far removed from making optimal use of its human capital potential and is under-prepared for the impending disruption to jobs and skills brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Consequently, there is a huge challenge ahead for Sub-Saharan African nations to deliver the right education and knowledge for its citizens to be able to thrive. It is even more imperative that action is swift as by 2025, two-thirds of Africa’s population will be under 25. In Sub-Sahara Africa, 60 per cent of the population is currently under 25 and make up 37 per cent of its workforce.  The challenges to equip the continent’s young people with the right skills to succeed, is huge but doable as we have seen over the years through JA Africa, a youth-focused organisation, which works in 14 countries and reaches more than 230,000 young people each year through its range of programs.

In collaboration with schools, technical and vocational centres and other partners, JA Africa works to augment the traditional academic, vocational or technical training for both in school and out of school youth with life skills, business training and mentorship, that encourages the youth to use innovative thinking, develop positive financial attitudes and explore and enhance their career aspirations.

JA Africa has very specific programmes to ensure that these young people become the future entrepreneurs of Africa. These youths need to become the business leaders of tomorrow that will develop the companies that will employ Africa’s mass workforce.

For me, born and raised in Cameroon, education is at the core of this and while JA Africa makes inroads, I know that the wider education systems across the continent need to alter their methods. In schools and classrooms, we must change the approach to education by removing rote learning; that is forcing information into the minds of children that they then have to regurgitate. We need to teach children not what to think but how to think. We need to mainstream experiential education approaches, so that children are learning not by listening but by experiencing.

The truth is, we are still educating young people as we educated their parents and their grandparents; whereas the difference between the world they live in and the world their parents grew up in is the difference between rotary phones and smart phones. We are teaching them to value formal employment over self-employment, degrees over experience, white collar jobs over blue collar jobs. We are teaching them how things are made instead of how to make things.

Africa’s education systems, to a large extent, fail to bridge classroom instruction to industry needs and to teach students how to succeed in a world where self-initiative and self-reliance are required. Consequently, many young people, whether they drop out of school at an early age or go on to graduate, come out significantly unprepared for the job market and are ill-equipped to face the challenges of an independent adult life.

As futurist, Alvin Toffler, said: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who can learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

This is where JA Africa is succeeding, by delivering a range of programmes that don’t just educate, but also provide key life and business skills that will support Africa’s youth throughout their working lives, while bringing wider prosperity to their families and communities. JA Africa’s model is based on the development and delivery of curriculums across a wide range of subjects targeting young people throughout their academic careers. From programs developed for kindergarten-aged students to JA Africa’s flagship Company Program ®, which teaches entrepreneurship to secondary-aged students, JA Africa addresses the needs of young people at every stage of their growth and learning.

 In order to address the challenge of mobilising and channelling the energies and talents of unemployed youth in Africa, JA Africa developed ITS TYME, which stands for Immersion Training Strategy: Targeting Young Marginalized Entrepreneurs.

ITS TYME builds on the Company Program® and is designed to provide basic business education to out of school youth through a variety of hands-on activities and supplements supporting a diverse range of learners. This unique and incredibly practical program takes business education out of the classroom and into the African marketplace, motor parks, slums, sports areas and other centres of youth activity.

JA Africa also places focus on the financial skills needed and has two specific programmes Cha Ching and More Than Money. Cha Ching targets primary age children and teaches the concepts of earn, spend, save and donate using the adventures of six band members. The second programme, designed for older children, encompasses economics and business skills. It is a wide arching programme, from which the students are much more widely equipped for the business world and the world of work.

While more than 230,000 children a year benefit, this scratches the surface of what needs to be achieved and so I want to see more of what JA Africa delivers rolled out across the continent’s education systems.

Entrepreneurship education and soft-skills development must be brought into the curricula of schools at an early stage. As the economy is not creating as many jobs as we have graduating students, it is imperative that we give them the knowledge and skills to be able to create jobs for themselves and others through enterprise.

We’ll also need to start recognizing core skills and competencies, rather than the job skills that will change faster than ever. This is why we need to teach soft skills: how to think critically, work in teams, ideate, how to make decisions. A study conducted by LinkedIn in April this year indicated that soft skills such as communication, creative thinking, organisation, social and emotional skills and high-level cognitive capabilities are in high demand by managers and are required for every job as these are skills that are harder to automate.

Young people need to bring more than knowledge to the modern workforce. The most crucial capabilities for the future include those core soft skills. It needs to be recognised and acted upon. Africa’s youth are key to the continent’s future and JA Africa’s work is critical to equipping them with the relevant tools and resources to secure a better future for them and their communities – but there is more than still needs to be done by other agencies.

The countries JA Africa works in are Botswana, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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