the future of digital jobs in south africa

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 13% of the world’s working age population; a number that is set to increase to more than 17% by 2030, the world’s second largest after Asia. With more than 60% of its population under the age of 25, Sub-Saharan Africa is already the world’s youngest region today – and, by 2030, will be home to more than one-quarter of the world’s total under-25 population. Over this period, the region is projected to expand the size of its workforce by more than the rest of the world combined, as its young population, the best-educated and globally
connected the continent has ever had, enters the world of work.

 

By leveraging this demographic opportunity, SubSaharan Africa has the potential to unleash new economic possibilities created by future industries and labour markets, dramatically raising labour productivity and per capita incomes, diversifying its economy, and becoming an engine for stable economic growth, high-skilled talent and job creation for decades to come. Today, however, Sub-Saharan Africa is far removed from making optimal use of its human capital potential and under-prepared for the impending disruption to jobs and skills brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index, which measures the extent to which countries and economies optimize their human capital through education and skills development and its deployment throughout the life-course, finds that Sub-Saharan Africa, on average, currently only captures 55% of its full human capital potential, compared to a global average of 65%, ranging
from 67 to 63% in Mauritius, Ghana and South Africa.

The World Economic Forum’s analysis also finds that the
region’s capacity to adapt to the requirements of future
jobs—measured by assessing the quality and extent
of its education and staff training systems, post-basic
education attainment and breadth of skills—relative to the
region’s exposure to these future trends—measured by
assessing the impact of latest technologies, local economic
diversification and complexity, employee productivity
and unemployment—leave little space for complacency
(Figure 3). While a number of African economies are
relatively less exposed to technologically-driven labour
market disruptions, this picture is changing rapidly. Urgent
efforts for closing the continent’s skills gap will be needed.
This Executive Briefing on the future of jobs and skills
in Sub-Saharan Africa is intended as a practical guide
for leaders from business, government, civil society and
the education sector, including, but not limited to, those
participating in the World Economic Forum’s Africa Skills
Initiative. Utilizing the latest available data, including through
a research partnership with LinkedIn, it provides a concise
overview of the region’s emerging opportunities and
challenges with regard to shaping the future jobs and skills
agenda and concrete recommendations for priority action.
It concludes with an overview of – and a call to action to
join – the Africa Skills Initiative to prepare the region to
seize the opportunities of future jobs and skills demand.

Labour market overview
In recent years, Sub-Saharan Africa has recorded
rapid economic growth. Six of the ten fastest-growing
economies in the world over the last decade are from
the region, which is set to double the size of its economy
by 2030 if these trends continue.4 Income levels and the
complexity of local economic activity have been increasing
concurrently, from a comparatively low base, including
among many of Africa’s most populous countries such
as Nigeria, Ethiopia, South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and
Uganda (Figure 4). South Africa, Mauritius, Senegal and
Kenya are the regions’ economies with the highest degree
of diversification and complexity.
Labour force participation in the region is high and
characterized by the generally strong economic
participation of women. However, more significant
workforce participation gender gaps remain in countries
such as Mauritius, Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria (Figure 5).
While the region’s rapid economic growth, dynamic young
population and high labour force participation hold much
promise, challenges remain when it comes to the creation
of quality, formal sector jobs. On average, Sub-Saharan
Africa exhibits a high-skilled employment share of just
6%, a contrast to the global average of 24%. Some of
the most common types of high-skilled employment on
the continent include business analysts, school teachers  

and academics, commercial bankers, accountants,
human resources, marketing and operations specialists,
customer service specialists, advertising professionals,
information technology workers and software and app
developers, according to LinkedIn’s data. Countries such
as South Africa, Mauritius and Botswana lead the way
in the local availability of high-skilled jobs while others,
such as Ethiopia and Nigeria, maintain large proportions
of workers in lower-skilled jobs (Figure 6). Formal sector
unemployment rates are often high—including among
recent secondary school and university graduates—in
countries as diverse as South Africa, Nigeria, Mozambique
and Senegal (Figure 5). While formal sector employment
did grow in Sub-Saharan Africa over the past two decades,
this job growth has simply not kept pace with population
growth, resulting in fewer opportunities in the formal labour
market for the increasing numbers of Africa’s young school
and university graduates.
Where Africans are employed in the formal sector, this
employment tends to be in smaller-sized firms with
limited resources to invest in upskilling and reskilling
opportunities (Figure 7). In addition, a sizeable number
of Africans continue to work in the informal economy  

on family farms and in urban self-employment – usually
sectors where the skills of the newly secondary or tertiary
educated are least value-adding and, particularly in rural
areas, where they often least aspire to work.5 This limited
success in capitalizing on its existing education investment
to date goes to the heart of the region’s relatively poor
performance on the Forum’s Human Capital Index
(Figure 2).
At the same time, large numbers of African employers are
citing inadequately skilled workforces as a major constraint
to business expansion (Figure 8). This points to a double
bind. In addition to the mismatch between the number of
educated young people seeking jobs and the availability of
formal, high-quality jobs, there is the added constraint of
young people being inadequately prepared for such roles.
Closer dialogue between education providers and industry
is needed to align and optimize the region’s demand and
supply of skills.6 Additionally, the continent’s employers
and educators need better tools to enable them to better
understand labour markets’ new and emerging skills
requirement 

Closing Africa’s data gap to close its skills gap
Reliable and timely data on the structure of employment
and skills in Sub-Saharan Africa is difficult to obtain. There
is scarce information on the number of existing jobs, of
newly created jobs, and of unfilled vacancies in specific
sectors, undermining efforts to systematically assess
and develop the continent’s skills base.7 To produce
this Executive Briefing, a wide range of traditional and
innovative data sources were consulted to provide the most
complete picture possible. Nevertheless, initiatives aimed
at closing skills gaps can only be so effective if they are
hampered by parallel data gaps. To maximize opportunities
to build future skills, initiatives aimed directly at improving
data collection—including on work in the region’s informal
sector8—are also needed. This need not mean simply
copying methods used in other countries.9 Instead, African
governments, with the help of private sector stakeholders,
have an opportunity to develop tailored approaches
to understanding the region’s evolving skills base and
emerging jobs scenarios. Limited data also hinders deeper
understanding of gender gaps across the region, as many
African economies lack data on progression of women
across higher-skilled and senior roles, making it hard to
gain a more nuanced understanding of both halves of the
region’s talent.  

 

 

The future of jobs
An estimated 15 to 20 million increasingly well-educated
young people are expected to join the African workforce
every year for the next three decades. Delivering the
quality jobs to match in order to fully leverage the
continent’s demographic opportunity is set to be one of
Sub-Saharan Africa’s defining challenges over the coming
years. Simultaneously, the Fourth Industrial Revolution
will interact with a range of additional socio-economic
and demographic factors affecting the region, resulting in
major disruptions to labour markets, growth in wholly new
occupations, new ways of organizing and coordinating
work, new skills requirements in all jobs and new tools to
augment workers’ capabilities (Figure 14).
Sub-Saharan Africa stands at a crossroads regarding its
future development path, with a range of opportunities
to invest in its skills base, leveraging existing strengths
to increase local value-add across a broad range of
industries. Investment in specialist skills and local talent
in the building and construction trades due to rapid
urbanization and a continent-wide need for infrastructure
development is one obvious example. Additional demand
for specialist skills and local talent in consumer industries
such as agriculture, food and beverages, home and
personal care, apparel and transport and automotive,
expanding rapidly due to the region’s growing population,
is another.13 As the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds,
Sub-Saharan Africa is also poised to develop new business
models on the basis of these technologies.14 Innovations
such as mobile payments systems like M-Pesa in financial
services, the use of drones for last mile delivery in
transportation and logistics and the development of a wide
range of digital applications tailored to Africa’s continued
importance and unique strengths in agriculture point to the
growth of these new aspects in the region’s economy.15
What is likely to be the jobs impact of these changes?
Much as in more economically advanced world regions,
concerns have recently been raised regarding the potential
impact of automation on jobs on the continent. It has
been estimated that, from a technological standpoint,
41% of all work activities in South Africa are susceptible to
automation, as are 44% in Ethiopia, 46% in Nigeria, 48%
in Mauritius, 52% in Kenya and 53% in Angola.16 However,
these effects are likely to be moderated by comparatively
lower wages and slower technology adoption.  

In addition, whether jobs are declining, stable or growing,
they are going through major changes to their skills profile.
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs analysis found
that, just in South Africa alone, 39% of core skills required
across all occupations will be different by 2020 as compared
to what was needed to perform those roles in 2015.17
At the same time, across the continent, substantial
potential exists for creating high value-adding formal sector
jobs in a number of areas.
While the Fourth Industrial Revolution may be disruptive
to many occupations, it is also projected to create a wide
range of new jobs in fields such as STEM, data analysis,
computer science and engineering. There will be strong
demand for professionals who can blend digital and
STEM skills with traditional subject expertise, such as
digital-mechanical engineers and business operations
data analysts, who combine deep knowledge of their
industry with the latest analytical tools to quickly adapt
business strategies. There will also be more demand for
user interface experts, who can facilitate seamless humanmachine interaction.18 For Sub-Saharan Africa, the greatest
long-term benefits of such jobs are likely to be found in
the promotion of home-grown African digital creators,
designers and makers, not just digital deliverers.  

 

However, future job growth will not be limited to the
technology sector alone. Investment in Sub-Saharan
Africa’s enormous infrastructure needs, such as
improvements in the continent’s transport networks,
is booming. While the potential benefits of such “hard”
infrastructure investments are well-recognized, economists
predict equivalent or greater – often untapped – job
creation potential of investments in countries’ “soft”
infrastructure of childcare, eldercare and education, which
also often produce more gender-balanced labour market
outcomes. For example, the direct and indirect job creation
effects of an investment of 2% of GDP in South Africa
would amount to 511,000 jobs in construction (with 29.6%
of direct jobs going to women) and 414,000 jobs in care
(with 61.4% of direct jobs going to women).20 Investing
in the care economy also dovetails with the recognized
importance of early-childhood education for human capital
development. In addition, millions of new teachers will also
be needed across the continent.21
The transition to a more ecologically sustainable economic
model also has the potential to create millions of new jobs
globally, including in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, it
is estimated that by 2025 South Africa alone could create
462,000 additional jobs by “going green”, including in clean
energy generation, energy efficiency, pollution control and
natural resource management. Similar estimates exist for
countries such as Mauritius, Namibia, Kenya, Senegal,
Uganda and Zambia.22
Finally, regardless of sector or occupation, new work
formats are offering individuals and entrepreneurs new
opportunities. Online platform work is on the rise globally,
including in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the continent
currently has 56 e-ridesharing services, most of them
homegrown apps launched over the last three years.23 In
Africa, online talent platforms have the potential to create
significant benefits by moving people from informal to
formal jobs, by increasing workforce participation and
hours worked of those formerly underemployed or inactive,
by shortening the duration of job searches and by enabling
matches that would otherwise not have happened.24
By 2025, this could result in 536,000 additional full-time
equivalent jobs and a US$3bn increase in GDP in Kenya,
861,000 jobs and US$20bn in South Africa, and 1.9
million jobs and US$20bn additional GDP in Nigeria.25
As elsewhere, African companies will increasingly need
to learn to manage a distributed, virtual workforce, to
integrate virtual freelance workers and to mitigate the
challenges engaging in online work.

 

Future-ready strategies
The current spread of education and skills across
generations and the expected future trajectory of jobs point
to particular strategies for the region to ensure that it is
prepared for the labour markets of the future.
Recent World Economic Forum research on Realizing
Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,
developed through in-depth consultation with leading
experts and practitioners, recommends a number of levers
for creating stronger education systems, including: 1)
expanded access to early-childhood education; 2) ensuring
the ‘future-readiness’ of curricula; 3) investing in developing
and maintaining a professionalized teaching workforce; 4)
early exposure to the workplace and career guidance; 5)
investing in digital fluency and ICT literacy skills; 6) providing
robust and respected technical and vocational education
and training (TVET); 7) creating a culture of lifelong learning;
and 8) openness to education innovation.26
All eight areas apply to the region and it must ensure that
access is universal, leadership of reforms is drawn from
multiple sectors and that new education systems are
designed for the long-term, while maintain agility to cope
with the constant pace of change.
This section highlights four particular areas for strategic
focus: ensuring the ‘future-readiness’ of curricula,
especially through a focus on STEM fields; investing in
digital fluency and ICT literacy skills; providing robust and
respected technical and vocational education and training
(TVET); and creating a culture of lifelong learning including
the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure.  

However, future job growth will not be limited to the

technology sector alone. Investment in Sub-Saharan
Africa’s enormous infrastructure needs, such as
improvements in the continent’s transport networks,
is booming. While the potential benefits of such “hard”
infrastructure investments are well-recognized, economists
predict equivalent or greater – often untapped – job
creation potential of investments in countries’ “soft”
infrastructure of childcare, eldercare and education, which
also often produce more gender-balanced labour market
outcomes. For example, the direct and indirect job creation
effects of an investment of 2% of GDP in South Africa
would amount to 511,000 jobs in construction (with 29.6%
of direct jobs going to women) and 414,000 jobs in care
(with 61.4% of direct jobs going to women).20 Investing
in the care economy also dovetails with the recognized
importance of early-childhood education for human capital
development. In addition, millions of new teachers will also
be needed across the continent.21
The transition to a more ecologically sustainable economic
model also has the potential to create millions of new jobs
globally, including in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, it
is estimated that by 2025 South Africa alone could create
462,000 additional jobs by “going green”, including in clean
energy generation, energy efficiency, pollution control and
natural resource management. Similar estimates exist for
countries such as Mauritius, Namibia, Kenya, Senegal,
Uganda and Zambia.22
Finally, regardless of sector or occupation, new work
formats are offering individuals and entrepreneurs new
opportunities. Online platform work is on the rise globally,
including in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the continent
currently has 56 e-ridesharing services, most of them
homegrown apps launched over the last three years.23 In
Africa, online talent platforms have the potential to create
significant benefits by moving people from informal to
formal jobs, by increasing workforce participation and
hours worked of those formerly underemployed or inactive,
by shortening the duration of job searches and by enabling
matches that would otherwise not have happened.24
By 2025, this could result in 536,000 additional full-time
equivalent jobs and a US$3bn increase in GDP in Kenya,
861,000 jobs and US$20bn in South Africa, and 1.9
million jobs and US$20bn additional GDP in Nigeria.25
As elsewhere, African companies will increasingly need
to learn to manage a distributed, virtual workforce, to
integrate virtual freelance workers and to mitigate the
challenges engaging in online work.
Future-ready strategies
The current spread of education and skills across
generations and the expected future trajectory of jobs point
to particular strategies for the region to ensure that it is
prepared for the labour markets of the future.
Recent World Economic Forum research on Realizing
Human Potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution,
developed through in-depth consultation with leading
experts and practitioners, recommends a number of levers
for creating stronger education systems, including: 1)
expanded access to early-childhood education; 2) ensuring
the ‘future-readiness’ of curricula; 3) investing in developing
and maintaining a professionalized teaching workforce; 4)
early exposure to the workplace and career guidance; 5)
investing in digital fluency and ICT literacy skills; 6) providing
robust and respected technical and vocational education
and training (TVET); 7) creating a culture of lifelong learning;
and 8) openness to education innovation.26
All eight areas apply to the region and it must ensure that
access is universal, leadership of reforms is drawn from
multiple sectors and that new education systems are
designed for the long-term, while maintain agility to cope
with the constant pace of change.
This section highlights four particular areas for strategic
focus: ensuring the ‘future-readiness’ of curricula,
especially through a focus on STEM fields; investing in
digital fluency and ICT literacy skills; providing robust and
respected technical and vocational education and training
(TVET); and creating a culture of lifelong learning including
the provision of adult training and upskilling infrastructure.  

Education and skills across generations
Sub-Saharan Africa has among the lowest number of years
of formal education amid its older generations, although
this data does not account for alternative modes of learning
such as informal apprenticeships, learning on the job and
traditional knowledge systems that have provided learning
and training opportunities for millions of working-age
Africans with little formal, curriculum-based qualifications
(Figure 9).10 In younger cohorts, extensive investment
in education has vastly improved the composition of
education and skills in the region. As documented in the
African Union’s recently adopted Continental Education
Strategy for Africa 2016–2025, the overall pyramid of
African education as it stands shows a fairly broad base,
at 79% adjusted net enrolment in primary school (up from
59% little more than a decade ago) – equivalent to 144
million African school-age children now accessing primary
education. However, enrolment at secondary level drops to
50% and only 7% of young people are enrolled in tertiary
education  

Overall, Sub-Saharan Africa’s younger generations are
considerably more educated—with much higher productive
employment potential—than their predecessors (Figure 10).
In countries such as Nigeria, Botswana, Benin, Uganda,
Malawi and Mozambique the contrast in the education
levels of older and younger generations is particularly
striking. The combined effects of rising post-basic
education attainment and the large proportion of young
people across the region present Sub-Saharan Africa with
a unique demographic opportunity. If current demographic
and education trends continue, the continent’s workingage 

population is set to increase by two-thirds by 2030,
from 370 million adults in 2010 to over 600 million in 2030,
while the share of this population with at least a secondary
education is set to increase from 36% in 2010 to 52% in
2030 (Figure 11).
This progress, while setting up more people than ever
before for building their future livelihoods, still leaves a very
significant portion of the population behind on education,
a deficit that will last for decades across multiple
generations. The overall expansion in education also masks
disparities and uneven outcomes across various segments
of the education system. There is currently a lack of
upstream and downstream coordination between Africa’s
primary, secondary and tertiary education providers and
the region’s pre-primary, technical and vocational, adult
training and non-formal education systems remain unevenly
developed. In addition, Sub-Saharan Africa retains the
largest gender gap in the education of girls and boys of any
world region, limiting the breadth of Sub-Saharan Africa’s
available talent pool and furthering social and economic
disparities between women and men later in life 

For those who are enrolled in schools and universities,
African education systems’ quality and ability to meet
the needs of a competitive economy, as perceived by
respondents to the World Economic Forum’s Executive
Opinion Survey, remain a concern. They rank significantly
below the global average—suggesting that learners
are not acquiring the knowledge and skills required for
today’s economies and societies (Figure 12). This is further
corroborated by business leaders’ concerns about the
difficulty of finding skilled workers for their businesses.
Finally, for those who are a part of the continent’s
high-skilled white collar workforce (Figure 13), the data
reveals that 35% of LinkedIn’s tertiary-educated African
members hold Business, Administration and Law
degrees—dominated by specialization in accounting
and complemented by qualifications in law, business
management, banking, finance, marketing and human
resources. The data also suggests the availability of a fairly
large science, technology, engineering and mathematics
(STEM) and information and communication technology
(ICT) talent pool, comprising nearly 40% of the LinkedIn
sample and split between specialization in Engineering,
Manufacturing and Construction (16%), Information and
Communication Technologies (11%), and Natural Sciences,
Mathematics and Statistics (11%). Within Engineering,
Manufacturing and Construction, more than half of
graduates have focused on electrical, civil, mechanical or
chemical engineering, or architecture and urban design.
Among those with an ICT qualification, the large majority
are specialized in either computer science or in developing
and maintaining information systems and databases. A
much smaller cohort of African professionals have studied
hardware and software engineering and only a select few
have focused on artificial intelligence. Among those who
have specialised in Natural Sciences, Mathematics and
Statistics, more than half have studied basic sciences such
as biology, chemistry or mathematics, while more than one
in six have focused on applied fields such as biochemistry,
bioinformatics, neuroscience or environmental science