In a world where two-thirds of youth in developing countries are not fulfilling their economic potential, and 70% of an estimated 200 million Nigerians are in the youth category, the issue of skills development cannot and must not be taken lightly.
Before the advent of social media, skills acquisition took on various forms both informal and formal.
In this regard, we are all familiar with formal education as a veritable platform. But formal education went beyond the traditional, primary, secondary, and university education. There were technical schools which offered an alternative means of skills acquisition for artisanal services such as plumbing, electrical work, etc. These technical schools were accredited and certified, but over time their popularity started to dwindle.
However, we also had other means of skills transfer, such as the apprenticeship system adopted for various artisanal services such as tailoring, auto mechanics, etc., and of course, entrepreneurship such as the Igbo apprenticeship system, to mention a few. Whilst these still exist, not much effort has gone into institutionalizing them as additional sources of skills development. Furthermore, the brain drains and mass exodus for greener pastures has also seen a depletion in the number of teachers, educators and trainers available to develop Africa’s growing population.
But it’s not all gloom and doom. Technology has stepped in as a knight in shining armor to save the day and help bridge a gap that could degenerate into a near insurmountable gulf if not addressed speedily. Take a virtual stroll down the streets of social media and you will find it replete with business enterprises of all kinds, entertainment skit makers, thought leaders and various subject matter experts.
These apps provide a platform for unleashing creative potential with minimal start-up costs; marketplaces largely driven by youth. Social media has redefined convenience as a service and marketing as a core skill. Computer programmers and Tech start-ups are also offering skills acquisition through coding and programming, preparing the next generation of software developers.
Through these avenues, people are developing relevant skills for today’s world and a transformative future, keeping many up to date and providing access to global technological advancements and tools. African youths have demonstrated that they possess the primary ingredient for a transformative future – inquisitive minds. And with technology aiding the interconnectivity between worlds that hitherto had little basis for interaction, therein lies an opportunity for Africa to become the ‘greener pastures’ its young people so desperately seek after.
To achieve that successfully, we must give them hope, and that hope must bear the capacity to open their minds to Africa’s possibilities beyond the horizon. This is where Education in its various forms comes into play. But you cannot give what you do not have. This means the education sector must be intentionally and holistically designed to include those entrusted with the task of transferring knowledge and skills.
How then do we equip teachers and trainers for this critical role? It will take a multi-sectoral approach to build hope. The education sector must be prioritized with the welfare of teachers as a key incentive for attracting the right calibre of persons into the profession. School curricula must incorporate entrepreneurship as a core module in formal education from a young age as a preparatory tool. Digital technology and access to it must be provided and incorporated as primary learning tools for both public and private education.
However, beyond direct investment in education, the Government must also bear in mind the sociological and psychological impact of development on the youth population, and as such, continue to place infrastructure and socio-economic empowerment at the forefront of the growth agenda. There must also be policies that enable the proliferation of small businesses to signal the endorsement of the entrepreneurship model and mindset.
The private sector also has a key role to play in driving positive change. One of the key roles being to create opportunities for mentorship, platforms for cross-pollination of ideas between theory and real-world application.
The Sahara Group recognizes its role as a bridge and catalyst for development and sustainability. Beyond recruitment through a renowned Graduate Trainee Programme specifically designed to reposition African Youths on the global stage, several programmes and initiatives have been specifically targeted at different levels of educational development, to achieve this end-to-end goal.
Mindset transformation is key to preparation, and this is achieved through creative writing competitions and debates on climate change and Africa’s sustainability challenges, for greater awareness and consciousness. The Sahara STEAMERs programme which was birthed as a tool for building creative confidence in Africa’s young adolescents of secondary school age, through ideation, self-directed learning, and collaborative development of practical solutions to real life problems in emerging economies is another example of such developmental initiatives.
Higher up the rungs of the education ladder, the Extrapreneurship Model adopted by the Sahara Group, was born out of the need to inspire collaboration between the private sector and young entrepreneurs, with the understanding that the latter can achieve more by leveraging the experience of the former in capacity building.
This led to the launch of the “Sahara School of Innovation and Extrapreneurship” (SSIE), as a means of creating a platform for a dedicated focus on Sustainable Energy for the future. The SSIE, the first of which is being established at the University of Lagos, will serve as a platform for promoting innovative solutions by university students aimed at facilitating sustainable development and global competitiveness in Africa.
Beyond skills development through tertiary education, the Sahara Impact Fund was birthed as a solution to nurturing the social entrepreneurial spirit inherent in African youth from different walks of life, by equipping them with the skills and funding required to scale their enterprises to the next level.
Sahara Group has also focused on those entrusted with the arduous task of nurturing young minds by creating “The Sahara Group MAD Grant” (MAD = Making A Difference), an annual award grant which currently offers outstanding lecturers’ sponsorships for research programs within Africa.
Whilst the Sahara Group sits at the vanguard of such transformational partnerships for a transformative future, it is just one of many organizations that can drive private sector involvement in boosting skills acquisition for the youth. Africa will struggle to play catch up with the rest of the world if we continue to neglect the population demographic that will be primarily responsible for harnessing the opportunities and facilitating a permanent seat at the table where global decisions and policies are being engineered.
The transformation we desire to see will require collective effort, to ensure it is just, inclusive and leaves no one behind. We need more organizations like Sahara to have some skin in the game. Empowering Youths for a transformative future is not just a global imperative, but it is also critical to Africa’s continued relevance and sustainability.
Gray, a lawyer and Director of Governance and Sustainability at Sahara Group. She is also a Trustee of the Sahara Group Foundation, the Sahara Group’s vehicle for social sustainability, with a focus on promoting access to energy and sustainable environments, ultimately helping to build sustainable societies.