It is widely recognised that long-term economic growth can only be achieved through investment in a highly skilled workforce, and more than three-quarters of CEOs in Africa believe a skilled, educated and adaptable workforce should be a priority for business. However, employers across the region complain of a lack of basic, technical and transferable skills in graduates. Relying heavily on expatriates for this workforce is not financially sustainable nor generally welcomed by governments , but in the opinion of the CEOs, universities in Africa “simply can’t keep up”.
“[Our biggest challenge in talent is] to ensure that the standard of what is provided in public and private education continues to rise…[to] ensure that businesses like ours have a pipeline of high quality home-grown talent that we can develop into the next generation of leaders.” (Bruno Witvoet, Executive Vice-President of Unilever Africa cited in PwC’s Africa Business Agenda 2016).
Connecting employers and higher education institutions is therefore vital for African countries to achieve their economic development potential. The UK Government has recognised the importance of this and has launched a new fund, SPHEIR – the Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation & Reform Fund, to improve the relevance of higher education systems in Sub Saharan Africa and other frontier economies.
Here we look at three ways in which the graduate skills-gap can be reduced through positive action from employers, as summarised below in Figure 1.
Shaping the university offering – Collaboration between universities and employers
Institutional links between higher education providers and private companies can help graduates develop the exact skills that an employer wants; and a stronger presence on campus can benefit the employer when these same skilled graduates are choosing where to apply next. Indeed, the most successful employers worldwide are the ones which offer universities considerable time and funding .
The Africa Leadership University incorporates four-month internships in each year of study with “employer partners” such as PwC to develop practical workplace skills. Ayesha Bedwei, PwC Partner Ghana noted in ALU’s corporate presentation that “after just one term at ALU…students are operating at the level of first year professionals.” Kenya’s Safaricom has established a two year Master’s degree in Mobile Telecommunications and Innovation with Strathmore University in Nairobi. Students create their own start-up companies, which improves their mobile application development skills (required urgently by Safaricom) as well as providing relevant innovative solutions to local challenges.
Topping-up the university offering – Employer-owned education
Some companies have set up their own internal education services to fill gaps in the talent they have hired. Courses are driven by their own specific business needs.
The Dangote Academy, set up by the multinational conglomerate in Nigeria to build the technical and vocational skills of its graduate hires has proven so successful that a full university of technology and management is planned by the group by 2020.[7,8] PwC Ghana similarly established an internal business school to build skills in its employees in areas such as tax, compliance and audit. These courses have since been extended outside of the firm, offering paid-for courses to graduates employed elsewhere.
Bypassing university altogether – Education-to-employment participants
Some employers allow students to skip the university step in favour of intensive vocational training and learning on-the-job. This works well in new sectors such as technology in which skills can quickly date and a fast response to market needs is required. Whilst still being tested, this model shows great potential for sustainability and scale.
Lagos-based Andela (a private organisation) provides a free, but highly competitive computer programming course with no formal entry requirements. Soon after enrolment, students are contracted to major international and local technology partners. These employers benefit from the latest technological skills at competitive prices. The students benefit from an income whilst studying, and Andela in turn recoups its training costs. The resulting graduate is highly employable.
How do employers fund these interventions?
Most of the examples stated are funded by companies as an investment in their own talent pipeline. For other employers in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East wanting to improve the relevance of higher education to their own staffing needs, a SPHEIR grant could be a compelling option. Grants of up to £5 million are available to support private companies working in partnership with other organisations to improve the quality, relevance, accessibility and affordability of higher education. Applicants will be expected to contribute their own cash and in-kind resources. For more details, visit www.spheir.org.uk and sign up for email updates.
PwC is supporting the British Council to manage SPHEIR on behalf of the UK’s Department for International Development. If you are a private company interested in applying, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org before the call for applications opens on 21 October 2016.
4 Bruno Witvoet, Executive Vice-President of Unilever Africa cited in PwC Africa Business Agenda 2016
5 Ayesha Bedwei, PwC Partner Ghana in ALU’s corporate presentation
7 WEF Report on the Dangote Academy; Disrupting Unemployment
This article first appeared on pwc.blogs.com and is reproduced with permission.