[Column] Lynette Mwende: Invest in the youth for the future of work

Lynette Mwende, Executive Director of Ujana Afrika
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the global economy and some of these changes will forever change how we work. Automation, e-commerce, increased remote working are some of the sweeping changes that have affected the labor market, both locally and globally, making the urgent need to skill our youth for the future of work. The surge in automation of processes coupled with increased use of artificial intelligence and other technologies have inevitably collapsed some jobs. If we take Agriculture, the backbone of our economy, as an example we can see how the above changes are reshaping the labor force in this sector. The value chain activities ranging from farming and food production to harvesting have become less labor intensive due to increased automation. Currently, there are farms that have automated processes such as livestock feeding, egg collection, milking and other roles all of which have created efficiency but at the expense of jobs. What would require tens of workers can now be done by a handful of people. The labor that is now needed in these farms is one that is highly skilled where one person can carry out several technical tasks. In more developed economies farmers use drones, operate complex machinery, and use digital tools to market their produce. These skills are improving productivity and reducing costs. These are the same farmers that will be competing with our youth in the global marketplace which raises the question on whether we have invested enough in our youth to enable them to compete with their global counterparts? What can be done? To make our youth competent for the future workplace, both the government and private sector must adopt new approaches to training. Some of these new approaches include making some skills mandatory through thorough and current training at all TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) institutions. Today’s youth must have a combination of hard and soft skills- verbal, oratory, critical thinking, and digital skills if they are to compete globally. A youth in farming must have the digital skills necessary to access information that they can use to improve their ventures. Take hydroponics, as an example, how many youths are using this technology so that on the same piece of land they can combine fish, strawberry, and bee farming. After harvesting how are they selling these products? The same youth must then have the verbal and oratory skills so that they can communicate with their customers, some of whom may be in the other side of the world. They must also know how to use online platforms coupled with social media marketing skills. Knowing how to market your produce through social media tools can end the perpetual cycle of having to forego profits to middlemen. These are the skills that the youth will require in the future of work place. One way that the public and private sector can play a key role is investing in well equipped ICT centres at the grassroot level to ensure all youth are imparted with digital skills and thereby expose them to the global future of workspace. In addition, upgrading Technical training institutions across all counties to harness and nurture the youth’s practical and relevant skills that are aligned to the industrial occupational standards that have been developed. This requires massive Infrastructure investment at the vocational training centres which can be a channel to increase access to TVET at the grassroots. Finally, private sector businesses and entreprises can invest more time and efforts to work with academia to ensure there is no mismatch of skills between what the learning institutions are teaching and those required by industry. It is time that we have a national dialogue and a call to action on preparing the youth for the future of work. Lynette Mwende is the Executive Director of Ujana Afrika, a youth serving For Impact Social Enterprise  that Champions TVET and seeks to lobby for education sector reforms through TVET