Jobs and the Future of Work

3 ways Africa needs to adapt to the era of remote working

Power supply, internet connectivity and digital skills are three barriers to remote working for Africans

Power supply, internet connectivity and digital skills are three barriers to remote working for Africans Image: Andrea Piacquiardo for Pexels

Patricia Monthe
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, MEDx eHealthcenter
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  • The world has entered a new era of remote working – but there are still barriers to this for Africans.
  • With a young workforce and high unemployment, remote working could offer significant benefits to the continent.
  • To take advantage of these opportunities, African governments need to tackle power supply and internet connectivity.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, working from home has won widespread acceptance worldwide. According to a Gallup study, between October 2020 and April 2021, 52 percent of all workers and 72 percent of office-based workers in the United States worked from home for all or part of the time, while the number of remote workers in Europe increased from 5% to 12.3%.

In Africa, too, organizations and businesses have had to review their practices to accommodate remote working – but this has happened at a slower pace. A study conducted during the early stages of the pandemic estimated that by June 2021, half of South Africans would work from home full-time. Currently, 42% of African employees work remotely at least once a day a week. In Nigeria, remote working vacancies increased steadily between 2020 and 2021.

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Africa currently has a population of 1.37 billion, and this is projected to nearly double by 2050. It also has the world's largest and youngest workforce (almost 60% of its population is under the age of 25), with over 250 million of its youth unemployed. Future employment is likely to depend to a great degree on digital technology. Globally, 75% of jobs will require advanced digital skills by 2030. In addition, a research report by International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimates that by 2030, 230 million jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa will require digital skills, presenting a $130 billion opportunity for investors and education providers to train the future workforce. Meanwhile, the health tech industry in Africa is expected to reach a revenue growth of 23.08% and a market value of over US$11 billion by 2025.

What needs to be done to enhance remote working in Africa

There are many barriers to remote working for Africans. To grasp future opportunities African countries will need to address the following three areas:

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1. Power supply

At present 46% of Africans still lack access to electricity. The urgent focus of governments must be to address these gaps in the power infrastructure. This should involve promoting sustainable energy investment through neutral platforms, accelerating the market for private sustainable energy enterprises, and facilitating communication to improve access to electricity for all and improve the quality of service for households that already have it.

2. Internet access

Although the pandemic did not cause internet access restrictions in Africa, it has exacerbated the major difficulties. Only 39% of Africa's total population had access to the internet as of December 2019, and recently connection prices have increased. There is a lack of high-bandwidth internet connectivity. Experts have emphasized the critical role that telecom companies and government communications departments must play in encouraging regulatory strategies at the regional and national levels. Africa needs increased competition in the broadband industry to achieve the goal of staying connected.

Only 39% of Africa's total population had access to the internet as of December 2019, and recently connection prices have increased.
Only 39% of Africa's total population had access to the internet as of December 2019, and recently connection prices have increased. Image: The World Bank

3. Digital skills

To seize the opportunities available in the era of remote working, African countries must also invest in developing skills in the population — from digital literacy to financial and soft skills — as well as improving digital access. The continent needs a strategy to ensure that the world's youngest and fastest-growing continent, with millions of young people preparing for the future of work, is ready to attract jobs from Asia, Europe and the United States,

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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Jobs and the Future of WorkGeographies in Depth
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