Interview Didier Acouetey “The impact of the crisis on the employment will be stronger in 2021”
Specialist of small and medium-sized companies in Africa, Didier Acouetey, founder of AfricSearch, questions the crisis’s impact on the labor market.
How do you see the future evolution of the job market in this particular context due to the Covid-19 crisis? Now there are needs for new jobs and also save existing ones?
Globally, after I spend some weeks traveling in numerous African countries, I see that the economy, in general, suffers. And despite the vitality, we can observe in cities where there is no lockdown. There is a contradiction between the dynamism of our capital cities and the contraction of the economy. What we can observe in the banking sector in which results are not good. The private sector has a tough time recovering since the crisis is not over, impacting financial sector results. Those indicators don’t lie about economic reality. When you have institutions which stayed close for months, tourists not coming, of course, there is no recovery. I won’t talk again about the hotel and restoration sectors, which struggle a lot, but the impact on employment will be more substantial in 2021. Except if those countries manage to mobilize domestic resources or some other kind of resources, if they focus on their agricultural transformation plans, that must create jobs. In other words, if they adopt a more introverted approach concerning development against what we usually do with our economies, especially focused on foreign investment and raw material exports. We need to redomesticate our economies with investment and local resources.
In this context, the inadequate between levels of training and needs of the market become more urgent…
Indeed, this general observation was amplified by the fact that training and education systems didn’t get enough time to reinvent. For me, they must go toward short training, with professional aims, technical, and relaunch some sectors—for example, agribusiness. During a trip to Uganda, an agricultural country, where the industry represents 30% of the GNP, there is this ambition to accelerate the agricultural transformation. How can we do that, without training young people who will arrive in those processing, logistic and distribution industries… When we take every sector apart, and this is true only for Uganda, the challenge is to manage to integrate short training on agricultural transformation jobs with funding. Those sectors will then become professional. In other scenarios, we will not be able to absorb the wave of 2021. This is true for agriculture and other manufacturing sectors, including health, one of the continent’s weakest sectors. Even if we have good health results, this crisis is the occasion to change this sector from its basement. Our countries followed the big hospitals logic, as we see in the Occident. But, when we talk about the health sector as an opportunity sector, it is by using local health, with primary health workers, who can do diagnostics, first treatment, and even produce medicine. Setting up small laboratories to make generic medicine with local plants, for example…
Is the point to adapt the education system to the economic transformation operating in the continent by using short training?
China didn’t do anything different from that. When we talk about the Chinese miracle, how did they do it? When a plant sets up in a region with a low educated population, they teach them basic knowledge and short training for 3 to 6 months. If, for example, we want a shoe production plant, we teach people how to make a shoe. We can imagine the same things in our regions, with training centers where we quickly teach young people how to do the work. And it doesn’t prevent them from getting graduate. If we look at the German training system, from a CM2 level of training, with the apprenticeship, training in companies, people can go until bac +2 engineering levels. We don’t sacrifice them. We give them access to a job. Because they have theoretical knowledge, but they don’t know what to do when they arrive in a company. Look at all those graduate people who end up working as a taxi driver. We could train them to work in the industry, teach them coding, IT functions, in two or three months.
This is the other emergency on the continent: 80% of actual jobs will disappear during the coming 20 years with the AI’s arrival. How can we prepare for that?
In Africa, we need a million coders, young computer scientists able to process data, make AI. We need to have data centers. Data is the future richness. We need to train those young people to absorb those new jobs. If tomorrow, in Rwanda, we prepare 100 000 young to AI jobs, they will find a job right the way because most of the big international companies need human resources. It is essential to anticipate the dynamic and see what we can improve in the educational system. For example, in South Africa, there is a center called 22 Sloane, and I think what they do is really interesting with training around AI and a responsive way of working. It is the same with Aphrodice Mutangana and K-Lab in Kigali. In our countries, in universities, in Dakar, Lomé, and everywhere, we start to see FabLabs, which answered needs during the pandemic, making respirators, for example. This is still artisanal, but now it exists, and we can accelerate and use this to create momentum.