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Africa’s Future Workforce — Learning and Development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In the third session of the Talent for Africa Virtual Forum, GBSN and Ecobank Academy presented “The Future Workforce — Learning and Development in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” a discussion on Africa’s most powerful resource — its people! Once again, we remind our audience that collaboration between sectors such non-profit, academic, and government is absolutely necessary to achieve Agenda 2063 and ultimately serve Africa’s wants and needs. On the panel this week, GBSN’s Rob Vember hosted Rebecca Harrison, CEO of the African Management Institute, Enase Okonedo, Deputy Vice Chancellor at Pan-Atlantic University of Nigeria, and Nick Van Dam, Chief of the IE University Center for Corporate Learning Innovation at IE University Center in Spain and former Chief Learning Officer at McKinsey and Company.

The conversation began with a general discussion question from Rob prompting each panelist to share their thoughts on the significance of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Fourth IR) and how Africa differentiates from the rest of the world in this age of digital transformation. Nick responded by noting that overall, these are extraordinary times, not just because of the Fourth IR, but because of the current pandemic as well. Over the next decade, there will be massive changes, as technology continues to enable skills and specific competency shifts in response. From her institutional perspective, Enase describes the need to prepare this new wave of workers even before university. “We have to change to adapt,” said Enase as she pointed out the difference between what business education required 25 years ago versus the blend of skills necessary for today. In agreement, Rebecca provided her insight that there needs to be more investment in training and development in order to deliver more impactful solutions for the continent, especially as tech is changing the world.

Rob continued this notion of impactful solutions and asked Nick what he thought were some other key drivers to ensure efficiency levels in terms of learning and development. Nick responded by eluding that there are significant differences from country to country, however the macro trends lend themselves to certain key competencies. We know, inherently, that machines and technology can do things that humans can’t even fathom, however, the future generations must lead change with something that tech can’t provide — empathy. In continuation with this thought, Rob turned to Enase to ask what development is going into higher education to meet these gaps that technology will never be able to meet. “I dare say, more research ought to be done in order to understand the needs of the future and what employers are looking for,” replied Enase. She identifies the future leaders of tomorrow as lending themselves to these “softer skills” in order to create more ethical and well rounded workers. Rebecca added that as a learning provider, she works consistently with companies to identify these aforementioned skill gaps, such as critical thinking and creativity, so the future generation can be more well-rounded. Not only is this what is needed, but it’s what students want.

In an interesting transition between technology and the future workforce, Rob posed the following question to each panelist: “One of the key advantages in Africa, currently, is that most young people constantly have mobile devices in their hands, how can we use that to our advantage?” From her role in the management learning space, Rebecca noted that Covid-19 has truly accelerated digital adoption as we rapidly move online, develop apps, and become more adaptable. She found that, as we have moved online, entrepreneurs and women especially have been more engaged. These groups of people especially lend themselves more towards the 90 minute webinar and downloaded tools than an entire day of in-person workshops. From his perspective, Nick agreed with the effectiveness of mobile learning, and added the potential for gamification and other optimal designs within tech that imply effective learning overall.

However, as with anything, innovation comes with challenges. In this case, one of the audience members agreed that tech is critical, but the tech infrastructure across many African nations is weak, particularly to underserved populations. “How can we address this more collaboratively across institutions,” she asked. Enase replied that to solve lack of tech infrastructure in certain areas, it requires the cross-sectoral collaboration of both companies and governments. As a general solution, how can we use the talent we have been discussing to meet the needs of the populations struggling with access? Rebecca brought up that the funding that is coming in from other governments and companies can also be directed towards this need. Nick posed his thoughts as well, indicating that digital learning should be accessible across companies and nations, as it is the way of the future. “We can’t provide learning if bandwidth is insufficient.”

As always, Rob concluded the discussion by asking each panelist for a closing remark for the audience to consider based on the discussion. Enase began the final comments with a reminder that we can create tools and develop courses, but they aren’t useful unless students from the broader environment (university, corporate, or otherwise) can’t access them. This is why it is important to not only work together across sectors, but to teach this mindset to students and foster innovation. In his closing reflections, Nick had listeners consider the impact of well-designed digital learning solutions for all students in the wake of the pandemic. However, we must enable teachers, faculty, and professors to design these different learning models effectively. Finally, in agreement with her panelists, Rebecca stated that the best way to teach the new wave of Fourth IR talent is to transition from this traditional learning and recognizing that not only is technology changing, but so is everything else around us — politics, economics, and our daily lives.

The Talent for Africa Virtual Forum will continue with its fourth session on Wednesday, March 3rd with a discussion on “The Business of Sustainable Development”. Please invite your friends, colleagues, and network. We look forward to seeing you there!