The debate about the future of work is an interesting one, especially for the African continent. On the one hand, we have the rise of frontier technologies such as AI, Robotics, IoT at the global scale. On the other, we still have systemic challenges such as unemployment, semi-automatic industries, and a huge informal sector that is not digitally enabled. How do these two parallels impact the future of work trajectory in the continent?
In an attempt to answer this question, we hosted the 9th edition of the #WhatsGood series, where we discussed the future of work with a local first perspective and how it all connects to the global trends. To achieve this, we were pleased to host key professionals from different sectors who shared their insights on workforce trends in Africa, upskilling employees for the future of work, and the role of policy in laying a framework for the future of work. They included:
- Akshay Shah– Director of an award-winning manufacturer and supplier of plastic and packaging solutions for corporations, consumer packaged goods, and consumers alike. He is a champion of the circular economy and technological pacemaker for the advancement of smart industries in the region.
- Cezanne Maherali- Leader of the Uber Policy team in East Africa that has had a hand in fostering government relations and supporting smart mobility initiatives in the region. She is passionate about economic development and creating policy reforms that foster independent work.
- Paul Kasimu– A highly experienced executive with an extensive career spanning the public sector, FMCG, banking, and airline industries across leading corporations in East Africa, Botswana & UK. He currently heads Safaricom’s HR team which saw them crowned the ‘Best Employer of 2019.’
- Lydia Mathia — An advocate of youth development with experience advising top government ministry officials. She currently advises on youth affairs matters in the Ministry of Public Service, Youth & Gender Affairs, which is behind the Ajira Program.
- Joan Kamau- A leader in formulating strategic partnerships to strengthen learning and development across Africa. She is enthusiastic about skills advancement in the workforce and its impact on creating better employment and stronger businesses to achieve inclusive growth.
The conversation was moderated by Doris Muigei, a business psychologist with a passion for combining psychology and technology to produce innovative and rigorous talent solutions. She has over 12 years of experience in talent management and development both locally and internationally.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Technology has always disrupted labour and in this age it is no different. In this present time, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) serves as the axis through which the future of work conversation is moderated.
Africa, having missed the opportunities of the second and third industrial revolutions, is priming itself to the prospects of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Gauging the continent’s level of preparedness hinges on a lot of underlying factors.
In our conversation, we mainly focused on talent development, the labour market, and the workforce mindset to assess our level of preparedness.
Below are some of the key discussion points.
Technologically, vis a vis other industrial revolutions, Africa is no doubt better placed to compete globally, but only at a surface level. There is still a lot that needs to be done to prepare for the 4IR characterized by the utilization of disruptive new technologies such as AI, IoT, robotics & 3D printing and fusion of the physical, biological & technological world.
This time it is different for Africa. Africa is on par with most of the other regions. In terms of Connectivity. Flexibility. The only difference I see is we are not keeping abreast of change & our institutions of learning are not preparing any of our people for the future. We are still in the last century.” — Paul Kasimu, Chief Human Resource Officer, Safaricom.
The technology sector, even though it forms a big part of numerous African governments’ vision boards, is still far from being a priority going by net spend in digital investments. African countries spend about 1.1% of GDP on digital investment, less than half of what the developed countries spend.
In Kenya, we have seen the government invest in the Ajira Digital Program which is an online platform aimed at providing work readiness training, linking young people to digitally-enabled work, and increasing access to work opportunities in the digital economy.
“The platform will have a database of qualified job seekers for the private sector. We guarantee the listed workers have qualifications and don’t have criminal records. We are also expanding the Ajira Platform to what we are calling Ajira Youth Empowerment Centre and we will start with an online platform for that and then we will have actual physical centers as well in all constituencies & counties so that employers all over the country have access both— online or physically. The first 8 centers will be launched before Madaraka Day — June 2020.” — Lydia Mathia, Advisor- Youth Affairs, Ministry of Public Service, Youth & Gender Affairs.
Even in light of this initiative, the government’s efforts remain a far cry of the steps needed to curb the burgeoning unemployment rate. Lydia believes a public-private sector collaboration remains the country’s best chance to reduce youth unemployment in the country.
Ajira is aiming to connect 1 million youth with digital job opportunities yet the country has 13 million young people. About 1 million enter the job market yearly. About 2 million are unemployed and another 3 million underemployed.
“This cannot only be a task for the government to solve but it should include all parties inclusive of the private sector that can help run programs and events around skill building.” — Lydia Mathia, Advisor- Youth Affairs, Ministry of Public Service, Youth & Gender Affairs.
With gig platforms such as the Ajira on the rise, various employers are averse to employing gig workers mainly because of a lack of trust.
“The problem is not so much about finding that talent. It’s about trusting the talent. An app or a sharing platform isn’t really able to tell us who you can trust. There will be ratings, someone has done 500 jobs and has 5-star ratings but they turn up and do a bad job, because either ratings are being tainted, or there are rating firms producing those ratings. So the problem with finding a talent on the platform is really there is no way to trust that person so you’d rather be stuck with a devil you know instead of finding someone else.” — Akshay Shah, Executive Director, Silafrica.
Companies such as UTU bridging this gap:
“There is a company called UTU that is developing trust-as-a-service which can plug into any sharing economy platform. The service enables you to see a different kind of rating that is based on trust of people within your network who have previously used the gig workers’ service. So if we see that there is a higher chance we will hire that person for a gig.” Akshay Shah, Executive Director, Silafrica.
“The challenge that employers face with finding talent on gig and sharing platforms is the issue of trust. There should be more platforms such as UTU trust that have a database of gig workers who can be trusted with the work given. Gig workers should also take it upon themselves to ensure their individual work is good because one bad review of a gig worker results in a general negative attitude towards an entire group of gig workers.” — Cezanne Maherali, Head of Policy, Uber East Africa.
By 2030, Africa will have the largest workforce in the world. How relevant the workforce will be in the 4IR will depend on how connected, digitally skilled, digitally empowered (both as a producer and consumer) the workforce will be — characteristics that will be largely shaped by learning institutions.
The Kenyan Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), though widely scrutinized, provides a near-identical match with in-demand skills for the future.
Joan stressed the importance of liberal education — an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. Soft skills rank high in the irreplaceability index with skills such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking forming a crucial part of ever-green transferable skills in the age of hyper disruptive technologies.
“The required skill sets in the job market are not only technical skills but also soft skills. Transferable soft skills will be useful & irreplaceable as we move toward the future in work.” — Joan Kamau, Head of Sales, African Management Institute.
One of the places where the learning institutions drop the ball is in their lack of interconnectedness to the labour market. Out of the 73 universities in Kenya, only 5 have fully functioning career offices. The five are the University of Nairobi, Moi University, Mount Kenya University, Strathmore, and USIU-Africa. This highlights an underlying problem of key stakeholders in the talent development chain working in silos.
Workforce expectations have changed — and will continuously change — led by employees changing habits, and technological advancement. The changes in the workforce revolve around:
-Where, how, and for how long they want to work.
-How they interact with business and expect to be managed.
-How they expect to manage their careers, learnings & rewards, and collaborate anytime, anywhere on any device.
Safaricom, the winner of the Best Employer of 2019 award, has employed various future workspace models:
“We’ve introduced about 10,000 courses online in the Safaricom Business School, and we are encouraging people from the convenience of their smartphones to go for whatever they want to learn. In Eldoret, we have a virtual learning room, where you can lecture remotely from your house, and students will listen remotely and interact. Currently, we have about 200 of our colleagues working from home.” — Paul Kasimu, Chief Human Resource Officer, Safaricom.
“We have also introduced agile ways of working. We have about 28 squads at Safaricom and what that means is we have told line managers to get out of the decision-making process. The agile teams, organized using the two pizza rule, make very important, incremental but very telling changes in the organization. –Paul Kasimu, Chief Human Resource Officer, Safaricom.
With the development of digitally smart factories a key cornerstone of the 4IR, Akshay Shah is readying his industries to utilize technologies to further build a competitive edge.
“We are democratizing learning by providing self-paced remote courses to every single employee in the company; whether they are a gig worker, permanent employee or contractor. The learning platform is then connected to another platform that we are developing which is around problem solving.
In factories, we have an audit process that benchmarks the existing practice to a target practice — if it doesn’t meet that particular target level there will be a gap — that triggers a problem-solving action which then involves a cross-functional and cross-hierarchical team to get involved and pick up that problem, do root cause analysis, come up with solutions, pass it to somebody who can do the execution — all of this is being monitored through data,.
This platform will help us start recognizing people for their contributions in problem-solving.” — Akshay Shah, Executive Director, Silafrica.
In Learning & Development, learning is an initiative that the employees are continuously owning rather than waiting on the HR or/and L&D managers. This shift of mindset has come as a result of the growing need of employees to further align with new trends and remain relevant. However, there is a need for a concerted effort from all parties in order to meet the required threshold of skills proficiency needed to stimulate the economy at large.
Working and learning will blend completely. I don’t think it will be sequential, where you first learn then you work then you go back to learn. It will be blended, continuously fully integrated. Who takes the responsibility to provide that learning will most likely shift from educational institutions to workplaces. Because they are the only ones who can provide Just-In-Time learning whereas education systems will typically tend to lag a little bit behind. — Akshay Shah, Executive Director, Silafrica.
Changes are underway — whether we are prepared or not. The way we prepare for the next revolution will determine whether we reap the benefits of the incoming hyper-digital age or take a back seat and let other continents dictate terms. The next 10 years will be fundamental for African progress.
Future of Work Predictions