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What does the #4IR mean for us? The average African youth who actually have to work for a living. There is this recurring narrative of the human race being replaced by Robotics/Artificial Intelligence. Of course, the risk of large sections of the poor, the low-skilled, and the uneducated being left behind in a so-called digital divide looms large as more than 60 percent of the labor force in Africa is made up of ill-equipped adults and almost 90 percent of total employment is in the informal sector.

As outlined in the 2019 World Development Report (WDR 2019), “the global future of work is likely to play out differently in Sub-Saharan Africa than in the rest of the world. This difference is in large part due to underlying conditions in the region, including persistently low levels of human capital, aparticularly large informal sector, an insufficient and inefficient social protection system” – The Future of Work in Africa, 2020. 

We should understand that a lot of the jobs we have today will be obsolete in this digitised future. However, a great deal of new jobs will be created. This emphasises the need to re-skill and up-skill our workforce. Why focus on digital technology adoption in Africa? Because digital technologies have the potential to help build skills not just for a privileged few but for all workers —including those with low education and limited opportunities— and to boost productivity and create better jobs in all enterprises, including informal ones. A recent study has found that the arrival of faster internet in Africa increased jobs not only for workers who had attended university, but also for those whose highest level of education was primary school.

A digitised future will not further widen the digital divide. It is rather a solution to the digital divide. With the advent of COVID-19, we can clearly see that there is no stopping or delaying this future. It is coming, it is here and Africa needs to be prepared! We cannot be left behind, not this time. Africa needs to leverage its youthful population, this is its formula for a successful digital economy. Invest in educating the youths, increase the access of these youths to digital infrastructure increase innovation, job creation and stimulate growth & development across the different tiers in the economy.

Finally, these youths need to be prepped to handle the future of work and it’s demands. They have to be able to hold their own when placed alongside international counterparts. This emphasises the need for a re-education of the current workforce with the digital skills necessary for surviving in a more digitised era. These digital skills are a combination of both technical and soft skills. Nobody is asking us to become hardcore programmers, but it is highly important that we have a basic understanding of concepts such as the Internet of Things, the use of structured data, Blockchain, Cloud Computing and so on. Skills like Emotional Intelligence, Creative and Critical Thinking are also very important for effective collaboration amongst workers in a digital economy. 

This should be the concern of everyone, this should be the discussion at the table; policy makers, public and private sector stakeholders ought to be put in a room to discuss this concept and the immense amount of opportunities it brings to Africa. As well as craft a plan to implement the ideasraised.. 

About the Author: Sarah Elizabeth  OSHUNNIYI —Junior Business Analyst, The Foresight Group.


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