By Caesar Keluro
Social mobility isn’t dead as technology offers us a clear path into a better future. For African governments with a huge youthful population, harnessing technology holds a great potential to create good work for its teeming youth. The pandemic and attendant recession offers governments and private sector players an opportunity to reset our labour market and usher in a better future for African youth. Covid-19 has charted its unprecedented path around the world, it now bears the question: How do we take advantage of this crisis to create better jobs for our youths?
The Nigeria market saw the launch of 5G with the implementation of policies that prioritize allocation of new spectrum and deployment of small cells. We know 5G-related jobs would create high-skill and mid-skill jobs for Africans. But we can only realize the potential benefits if African governments focus their policies on the adoption of digital technologies and also by targeting small and medium manufacturers, ensuring that we build out our production economy.
Recently, I wrote on why we need to build our capacity in manufacturing. The reason is that Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the need for every nation to build its manufacturing capacity especially in the areas of manufacturing its essentials. Furthermore, because of the fallout from Covid-19 pandemic, we are witnessing the digitalization of production and the massive move of commerce online. History points us to the fact that tech-enabled manufacturing can create new jobs and enhance our domestic competitiveness.
Notably, our capacity for resilience in this times reside in local manufacturing capacity as well as massive technical training schemes to bring African youth into this evolving technology age. This decade has begun on a chaotic note thereby challenging the way we see the world. We will advise every African state to setup a National Flexibility Council. We believe this should be tasked in identifying and launching those industries and capabilities that are strategic, in the sense of improving the ability of each nation’s economy to deal with shocks like pandemics, wars, and climate changes.
This we believe should be followed by African government setting up a Manufacturing Regulatory Upgrading Commission. This should be designed to ignite a mindset for manufacturing for local and regional market. It is essential we build robust networked cottage industries while ensuring our evolving regulatory environment preserves essential jobs and promote the healthiness of our people and environment. Low-cost loans for our small and mid-scale manufacturing firms will be strategic in shoring up our supplier base.
Yet, we can only realize possible gains, if we start now by building digital platforms where product designers, local manufacturers and suppliers can more easily work together online. We have to develop platforms that enable small firms in Taraba State to connect with Lagos manufacturing hub, thereby building out our competitiveness locally and regionally.
A new manufacturing ecosystem
In the western and Asian world, we have seen some manufacturing networks or ‘platforms’. These platforms are making it easier for buyers to find domestic suppliers who have the necessary capabilities, and then to shift producers quickly when shocks hit or when it becomes necessary to lower carbon emissions. These platforms with government support can give African manufacturing startups access to immediate markets, making it easier for entrepreneurs to create well-paying factory jobs.
If there’s any lesson learnt, it is the need to urgently build out flexible, local, efficient factories that can be woven across the country, supported by innovative IPP (power) schemes. With technology, we can digitally route orders to the nearest or suitable suppliers. We know with this we can jumpstart the process of creating a new manufacturing ecosystem, built around distribution centers as they evolve across urban areas in Nigeria, driven entirely by ecommerce or similar entities.
Although, the accelerated growth of e-commerce fulfillment centers should enable a sincere and ambitious government to support co-locating manufacturing with e-commerce platform, logistics hub and more fulfillment centers, heralding a new beginning of resilient manufacturing for Africa’s economy. We believe with manufacturing close to distribution facilities we could cut turnaround time and reduce fewer trucks on our fragile roads.
As this decade evolves, we are faced with the challenge of reducing inequality with a high sense of urgency. The massive job losses in brick-and-mortal businesses we are witnessing can be offset by smart policies supporting the growth of e-commerce merged with manufacturing hubs across Africa. With accelerated support for the rise of African Instagram e-shops, we can help African businesses capture more of its diaspora market. African government can provide leadership by launching an open location data platform and also with investment in last mile infrastructure.
Also, the fragility of our economy demands we improve conditions for gig/independent workers and, by extension, our informal economy. We need to develop aggregate platform that enables portable benefits, ensuring that gig workers enjoy similar benefits like the fully-employed and supported by friendly tax rules.
Today, making massive funds available for apprenticeship is key to helping kids from low-income families. We should rapidly expand the number of formal apprenticeship programmes and where there are none, setup one, and also boost funding for career education. African lawmakers should create strong incentives for intermediaries (private or public) to organize apprenticeship training, placement and market them to employers.
A lack of credentials for low-income workers
Small business employers are hurt by the lack of credentials for low-income workers. These businesses want to hire workers with good “soft skills”—punctuality, hard work, ability to take initiative, gets along with others. We need to develop platforms that can enable us to track their competencies and skills across employers and target upskilling policies and opportunities toward them. We believe workers will be more willing to invest in developing such competencies if future employers could see them.
We advise government and private sector players to set up digital networks with the goal of enabling job seekers to display the breadth of their experience in a single, comprehensive learning record, tracking their achievements. As more of this micro-credentialling systems/platforms show up, government must incentivize a critical mass of employers and government agencies to adopt an interoperable and verifiable standard. They could do this by tying it to training funds. Every institution and company that provides training should also be required to connect with a micro-credentialling system, preferably one that offers broad-based verification capabilities.
Finally, experts have found out that monetary and fiscal policies have strong limitations with respect to stimulating long-term economic growth. This has shifted policy makers’ focus on microeconomic growth policy. This is an aggressive pursuit and promotion of productivity-enhancing assets, especially technology. Investing in our manufacturing base through technologies will enable us to create jobs with a future.
• Caesar Keluro is a co-founder/CEO of Nanocentric Technologies Limited, a technology company helping firms achieve digital transformation. He twits @Kcaesar and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org