By Silyvia Alusa

Discussions at the recently concluded African Development Bank’s (AfDB) annual meeting in Nairobi, Kenya highlighted the need to bridge the skill gap in Africa, with speakers calling on stakeholders to align skills development with emerging market opportunities.

Africa is known to be generally a youthful continent. However, experts observe that the continent still needs to harness this demographic dividend to its advantage. The mismatch between skills taught in schools and the labour market needs persists despite recognisable progress. Recent evidence by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) indicates that sub-Saharan Africa is among the most affected regions globally by qualification mismatch.

Speaking during a panel discussion titled “Harnessing Human Capital for Sustainable Growth and Development in Africa: Demographic Dividend and Circular Movement of Skilled Labour,” at the annual meeting on May 27, Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for the National Treasury, highlighted the importance of aligning skills development with emerging market opportunities to leverage human capital effectively, warning that, “If you don’t have human capital expertise, you are going to lag.”

Martha Phiri, the Director of Human Capital, Youth and Skills Development Division at the African Development Bank stressed on the importance of a healthy, productive, and innovative workforce for Africa’s transformation. She also emphasised the importance of derisking youth participation in investment across the value chains.

“A workforce that can ensure food security, drive power plants, enhance transport connectivity, and foster industrialization is crucial. We need to ensure that we not only build the necessary skills for young people, but invest in their businesses, and enhance derisking instruments to ensure youth are seen as bankable.”

William Asiko, Rockefeller Foundation Vice President for Africa, highlighted Kenyan President William Ruto’s recent announcement that carbon credits will be Kenya’s next significant export by 2030. He noted that this initiative could create numerous jobs but stressed the necessity of developing the right skills to seize this opportunity. “Artificial Intelligence carbon markets are the big issues now. Can we develop these skills for the future?” he posed.

With the private sector’s centrality in mobilising resources for human capital development, the panel rallied a call for the establishment of instruments that encourage private sector participation to optimize growth. Further, African countries are urged to ignite the right policies and initiatives to bridge the resource gap, alongside policies that address the skills mismatch to meet the labour market needs.