Some 60 representatives of employers’ and business member organisations (EBMOs), as well as representatives of the African Youth Commission (AYC), government and international organisations that included ILO and IOE, were hosted in Lilongwe on 3-4 June by the Employers’ Consultative Association of Malawi (ECAM) for deliberations on the future of work, its repercussions for the region, for young people, for policymakers, and for organisations such as IOE and ILO.
Since its beginnings in 1977, the annual ECSA EBMO gathering– which is co-organised by IOE and a relevant member organisation on a rotation basis with the support of Business Africa - has proven a unique and fruitful occasion to share best practices and discuss issues of concern to employers and business. Generous sponsorship by the European Union has been instrumental in bringing together a maximum number of participants to enrich the diversity of the event over the past three years.
The future of work theme for the Lilongwe conference was selected to encourage EBMO participants to share their activities and experiences in preparing to respond to the future needs of their affiliated companies; to provide a platform for African youth to contribute their voice to the policy discourse; and to inform and prepare the employer participants for the Centenary Session of the International Labour Conference, which has the future world of work at its heart.
For all parties, bridging the skills gap was identified as an area of key concern going forward. There was a particular focus on anticipating skills requirements for the future, and equipping Africa’s youth with the skills and competences necessary to respond to labour market needs and to become entrepreneurs and employers in their own right.
Over two-days of presentations and exchanges, the participants came to the following shared conclusions and made several important commitments for joint action:
- In order to ensure that Africa’s young people are equipped for the future world of work, business and industry must be encouraged to contribute to the process by allowing students to intern in their companies to acquire the right range of skills;
- There is a need for a two-way conversation between business and academy, and for education curricula to reflect the evolving needs of industry;
- Strong and growing businesses create more opportunities for interns and young employees; governments need to build regulatory frameworks that facilitate the creation and growth of sustainable enterprises and promote productivity;
- Governments should provide an environment where SMEs can be easily set up, operate and thrive;
- Governments need to work with business to conduct regular skills surveys to identify where the skills gap exists to allow all the stakeholders, including academia and prospective students, to take the necessary steps;
- Africa’s young generation needs to be encouraged to have the right attitude and mindset towards opportunities – particularly in light of the new opportunities arising from technological advances. Providing a space for young people to articulate their aspirations and professional ambitions will help them to acquire the right competences (technical, cognitive and social skills), choose the right career path, adopt an attitude towards life-long learning, and be alert to the opportunities of entrepreneurship and self-employment – as well as informing policymakers of the reality on the ground.
In addition, on 4 and 5 June, IOE supported a capacity building session in Lilongwe to specifically address the employment and skills concerns of African youth. This session, led by the African Youth Commission (AYC), is in line with IOE’s commitment to provide opportunities for young people to participate in multi-stakeholder decision-making processes.
The session was aimed at upskilling representatives from youth organisations across Africa to enable them to successfully implement sustainable projects within their respective countries . This included reviewing resource mobilisation skills, and exploring low-cost communication skills and channels.
Ms Natalie Mukundane Kyamutenen, Acting AYC Chairperson, was clear that her constituents were not prepared to be passive bystanders in the evolving employment landscape, saying: “The future of work is there for us to create.” Her words were echoed by Mr Lameck Jaston, IOE Adviser for Africa, who argued that there was cause for optimism: “While some jobs will undoubtedly continue to disappear as a result of automation - new jobs and opportunities will emerge thanks to technological advances such as AI, IoT, Big Data, faster and more widespread connectivity, 3D printing, the gig economy etc. and by equipping young people with the right skills, they will be able to shape their future and seize the opportunities.”
Speaking with one voice, IOE and AYC constituents called for concerted action for education and training systems to be more agile and responsive to the needs of young people and businesses alike, and for government to adopt a policy environment that fosters entrepreneurship, innovation, creativity, productivity and opportunity for all.