A Plea for African Apprenticeships

Dalberg Global Development Advisors

Originally posted by Club Africa. 

Today, 30 to 40 per cent of Africa’s jobs are in the services industries. A figure that will only increase by another 10 to 20 per cent during the years to come. “In tomorrow’s construction, retail and hospitality industries – Africa’s three biggest sectors –learning by heart no longer does the job”, says Devang Vussonji at Dalberg Global Development Advisors. His plea: “What we need are soft skills like critical thinking, teamwork, creativity and a customer-focused mind-set.”

Devang Vussonji is Associate Partner at the Johannesburg office of Dalberg, a management consultancy firm with offices in eleven countries and around 250 consultants worldwide. On a global level, Devang is the organisation’s expert advisor in the area of employment and education. “When we speak to employers, they tell us that a small component of modern jobs require technical skills taught in schools. The remaining part revolves around the ability to work in a team and solve problems using creativity, as well as a genuine drive to service customers. Unfortunately, in Africa most pupils do not acquire these skills at school.”

Strong apprenticeship ecosystem

“We notice talent supply is a pressing issue on the minds of both public and private sector players across the continent”, says Devang. “Youth unemployment leaves many concerned. While general unemployment rates hover between 15 and 25 per cent in Africa, youth unemployment portrays worrisome rates of 30 to 40 per cent in some countries. (Youth defined as between age 15 and 30, ed.) This situation is particularly problematic as a person’s first job is of invaluable importance to future career prospects! The first job after school forms an extension for the education system; it is here where key work skills are obtained. Research shows that a person earns 21 per cent less over the course of a lifetime if he or she remains unemployed during the first year after school. At Dalberg, we think the solution lies with the implementation of a strong apprenticeship ecosystem in Africa.”

Tapping into talent

Clearly, no significant apprenticeship ecosystem is in place in Africa today. What need be done to develop it? “To begin with”, Devang explains, “employers need to acknowledge that apprenticeships are actually a viable approach to tap into talent outside their own networks. Apprenticeships do entail some risks for the employer, especially if the apprentice does not perform well enough or decides to leave the employer after the programme. To encourage employers to take these risks, labour regulations should become more flexible. It should be easier to let someone go if the apprenticeship is not adding value for the employer. And students’ thinking needs to change, too. While their work is (nearly) unpaid, students should realise that an apprenticeship is a valuable experience that extends one’s skillset. Upon completion, the apprentice should receive a certificate to help secure a first ‘real’ job.”

The engine of economic growth

“Finally, governments can play an important role too”, Devang stresses. “To some degree governments begin to recognise the importance of apprenticeships, but much more needs to be done. For example, apprenticeships could provide a worthwhile alternative to current youth service programmes. Governments already reward stipends for participation in youth service programmes. If these stipends were channelled into apprenticeships they could reduce the pressure on smaller employers to bear the costs of these programmes. But most importantly, governments should recognise that apprenticeships could provide labour and talent for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, the engines of economic growth!”