In the course of my work, I have come across many talented jobseekers who, due to certain skills shortages, are unemployable. It is easy to state that it is the responsibility of the jobseeker to be employable, but many are oblivious to how to do that. Exactly which skills will make them attractive to potential employers?
Statistics have shown that that sub-Saharan Africa’s demographic explosion (from 430 million to over a billion working-age people over the next 40 years) will make Africa the largest labour market in the world. This creates unprecedented challenges and opportunities for the region – opportunities that will be missed if the working population lacks the skills to contribute positively to organizations they work in, either as employees or entrepreneurs.
In sub-Saharan Africa, job opportunities are scarce. The unemployment rate, which was 77.4% in 2013, remains higher than in any other region in the world, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). But these figures are changing.
Africa’s 1.2 billion people are better educated than ever before, while literacy rates among the young now exceed 70% everywhere except in a handful of countries.
The proportion of people living on less than $1.90 a day in sub-Saharan Africa fell from 56% in 1990 to 35% in 2015, according to the World Bank. Clearly, as stated by the ILO, the major route out of poverty and social exclusion is productive employment – and this is why skills development is so important.
So which skills can make young African jobseekers more attractive to employers, now and in the future? Here are seven ideas, in no particular order of importance:
1. Communication skills
One thing every company requires of a potential employee is the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively in spoken and written words. This includes, but is not limited to, delivering presentations to colleagues, customers, vendors and senior executives, writing reports and proposals as well as effective bid-winning documents.
2. People management
Communication and people skills go hand in hand. Good interpersonal skills are something else employers look out for in interviews, as the wrong employee can make or mar an organization. The ability to manage people across the organizational spectrum and readily volunteer to help or lead can help an organization achieve its objectives.
3. STEM subjects
An education in science, technology, engineering or mathematics can indicate that a jobseeker is an innovator and critical thinker, someone who is able to make meaningful connections between school, community, workplace and global issues. STEM skills are increasingly necessary in a knowledge-based economy.
There is solid evidence to suggest that the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs in future years will be in STEM fields. As a result, employers will search for candidates with an aptitude for problem-solving in a wide range of industries – from retail to banking – as technology continues to transform the working landscape.
4. Strategy skills
A good strategizer knows what will make a company go far. They’ll know what its priorities should be, whether profit or growth, for example.
An employee knowledgeable in the field of strategy should be able to conduct feasibility studies, develop business plans, build financial models, conduct market research and have the ability to develop operational roadmaps, among other capabilities.
5. Analysis and problem-solving
The business of any company is to make money and save costs. This means that the most fundamental utilitarian value of any employee is to contribute to achieving that. Consequently, all employers are out to find employees who are able to think critically about various problems and offer practical and cost-effective solutions.
A combination of “global” and “local” skills – i.e. global knowledge and local context – is an asset in an increasingly globalized world. It is important for individuals to understand worldwide trends and also have the contextual knowledge to unlock value in a regional territory or local market.
Understanding money and how finance works is a logical and analytical skill set that is helpful both from a personal perspective and in the world of work. Combining this with artistic inventiveness and big-picture thinking can create opportunities for the organization and employee alike.
I believe that the greatest natural resource for any continent is its people. It is important that young Africans understand that they are the greatest asset to companies and to the future of the continent. It is imperative for jobseekers to discover how to tap into and harness their skills, which can be innate or learned, in order to unlock their true potential and turn these vital assets into opportunity, not only for themselves but also for Africa as a whole.
This article is part of our Africa series. You can read more here.
The World Economic Forum on Africa is taking place in Kigali, Rwanda from 11 to 13 May.