TACOMA, Washington — Education is a critically important sector for sub-Saharan Africa and one that is in desperate need of improvement. Vocational training in sub-Saharan Africa is one that offers much potential although it is overlooked, and in some places, even stigmatized.
Vocational education is about teaching tangible, high-demand skills to students, like carpentry, plumbing, automotive repair and especially digital skills. These skills are especially important in sub-Saharan Africa, where the economy is shifting from agriculture-based to manufacturing, service and technology-based industries.
Overlooking vocational training in sub-Saharan Africa is a twofold issue: firstly, young people graduating from traditional schools lack the skills to meet their country’s economic needs, and thus many graduates are unprepared for work after school; traditional school graduates in developing countries have much fewer opportunities than their counterparts in developed countries.
“General education is often too academic and does not prepare young people for the world of work as is done by vocational training,” said Dr. Chipfakacha, who has published research on vocational training in Sub-Saharan Africa and works as Zimbabwe’s regional manager for the African educational nonprofit, Higher Life Foundation.
Secondly, the region as a whole develops a skills gap when vocational training in sub-Saharan Africa is ignored. By 2030, more than 230 million jobs are expected to require digital skills in the region; those jobs will be very difficult to fill without skills training in this field.
In Zimbabwe, this skills gap is extreme, with 6.43% job availability in the Engineering and Technology field, and a 93.57% deficit of workers who are qualified to fill those jobs.
Vocational training in Sub-Saharan Africa does exist and has for decades, but these centers are often not viewed as favorably as traditional schools. For example, in Ghana during the 1960s an education reform committee stated that students who did not qualify for secondary education were to be enrolled in vocational schooling— consequently, vocational school students were and continue to be regarded as less intelligent than traditional school students. This type of stigma pervades sub-Saharan Africa and dissuades many young people from enrolling in vocational schools.
Fortunately, there are organizations and governments working to narrow sub-Saharan Africa’s skills gap, ranging from global, top-down approaches to country-specific methods.
One way of cultivating technical skills in African nations is through policy— the top-down approach. For instance, UNESCO created a program called GO→SPIN, which analyzes governments’ capacity for scientific/technical learning in each country and proposes policy changes that would narrow the skills gap.
UNESCO has also developed a program specifically for vocational and technical training, called UNEVOC, which has 69 centers across Africa. These centers have three objectives they hope to achieve through vocational training: fostering youth employment/entrepreneurship, promoting equity and gender equality and facilitating the transition to green economies/sustainable societies.
Many individual countries have developed vocational training centers as well. For instance, Malawi developed a Technical, Entrepreneurial, and Vocational Education and Training (TEVET) Authority in 1999, which offers vocational programs to employers or schools that apply for training interventions.
Opportunity for Mutual Benefit
International developed countries view aiding the establishment of vocational training in sub-Saharan Africa not as a cost but as a long term investment. By 2030, over 25% of the world’s youth (under 25 years old) will be living in Africa, and thus it makes sense that international nations would want to educate the continent’s growing workforce in skills relevant to the 21st century economy.
“Investing in skills development through vocational training is vital in the transformation of economies from being labor intensive to become skills intensive, a critical ingredient for economic growth and social inclusion,” Dr. Chipfakacha told The Borgen Project.