Future Versus Urban Skills, What Skills Are More Relevant to Africa Youths NOW?

The Kariakoo Story, being born and raised in Dar es Salaam one of the fastest-growing Africa cities one thing I have learned is the relevance of urban skills, skills that are relevant for you to survive in the urban setup. By 2030, it is estimated that Dar es Salaam will have more than 10 million inhabitants living in the city and possibly attain the megacity status. This same scenario faces other African cities; Nairobi, Kinshasa, Addis Ababa, etc. Back in 2006, when I got my first “colored phone”, Nokia 3260, the coolest people around me were guys who had music files, video clips, and funny images to share with me via Bluetooth. I knew friends who used to make money by selling ringtones, video clips, funny images, etc to new phone owners. This used to be a common business at Kariakoo, Uhuru Junction with young people making 20K to 50K Tanzania Shillings per day. Their only investment was a Bluetooth adapter, a Nokia Cable and an old Pentium II/III PCs with cracked Windows OS with a Nokia Software inside. This was the first generation of hackers and crackers of Aggrey Street.

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Art Courtesy | Ngaira Mandara — The Photo of The Iconic Building of Kariakoo Market, The Busiest Place in Dar es Salaam — Not so far from the Market there is a street called Aggrey Street, it's like Shenzhen of Dar es Salaam where all the hacking and cracking of smart devices (smartphones, etc) happens.

Fast forward a few years later, the rise of Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Publisher, Cinema 4D, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Dreamweaver, etc created a group of new talented youths who were making money in Dar es Salaam, designing logos, marketing decks, editing images, designing flyers, making static websites, etc. Institutions such as LearnIT and Aptech (Recent Days Unique Academy) were a savior to most of these youths. A lot of youths survived in town through these skills. The skills that could easily be transformed into the cash-generating engine without even being employed in a formal setup even for those who haven’t been successful in attaining secondary education. I remember recommending these skills to my young brothers who were not successful in the traditional education setting. It turns out it was a good idea and the greatest hack of their careers.

For some time, I have been a believer in these skills as a solution to unemployment problems facing urban Africa currently. I was delighted a few weeks ago when my hypothesis was backed by a LinkedIn post showing the lists of the 10 most in-demand hard skills globally and the five most in-demand soft skills for 2020: I was happy and not surprised that some of the skills such as Video Production, Affiliate Marketing, and UX Design being listed as among relevant hard skills in the current market. I’m sure 98 percent of those hackers and crackers at Aggrey street don’t have LinkedIn accounts the score would have been even higher towards that direction.

Recently, there has been a tendency to underestimate some of these skills due to the rise of future skills and the rate of technology adoption. More emphasis has been given to skills like; Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Blockchain, etc. There is nothing wrong with that if our only target as a continent (Africa) is to emphasize more on outsourcing future skills to the developed market. Andela and some other platforms are doing good work on this. My only concern I don’t think we can generate enough placement opportunities for African engineers in time to address the 18 million youths who are getting into the job market in the continent every year. I feel there is a huge opportunity on the ground for urban skills; the increased number of small businesses, rising income levels of different socioeconomic groups, and the growth of the service industry make these skills even more relevant for fixing the current unemployment situation while planning for the future. They have an immediate impact on the current urban unemployment crisis.

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Thanks to the platforms economy; social media (Instagram, Facebook, etc) and service sharing platforms (Uber, Airbnb, Freelancer, etc). Young people in Africa are capitalizing on these tools to create employment opportunities for themselves. Thousands of women-led businesses are currently operating on Instagram without the need of having physical assets. Photographer, videographers, music artists, designers, digital marketers, carpenters, etc. They promote their businesses via these platforms free of charge and engage with their customers in real-time.

So, what do we need to do?

  • Embrace both future and urban skills, for quick fixing of the unemployment problem strategic emphasis should be given to urban skills.
  • We need to get over from the “certificate syndrome” and the traditional thinking of school, that it has to be a physical building with a teacher standing in front. We have to find innovative ways to encourage youths to attain these skills.
  • We need to understand the new context of jobs; people don’t follow jobs anymore, jobs follow people. Let’s put more emphasis on a freelance, platform, and digital economy. Let’s capitalize on our mobile and web penetration in urban areas.
  • Let’s not put unnecessary obstacles to the 21st-century learning platforms and future schools that operate non-traditionally. Let’s not judge people by the number of days they stayed in class, course works, etc. These traditional approaches are slowing us down to address the problem of unemployment.
  • Let’s encourage industry-based learning, courses should start from the needs of the markets and not vice-versa.
  • Allow self-learners to do their works and survive don’t introduce laws and regulations for them to be certified in sectors that are not necessarily harmful to anyone. It's insane to force a photographer to get certified before taking wedding pictures.

Africa needs to go back to the basics if we want to address the issue of unemployment. Once upon a time, the continent didn’t have schools but people learned how to survive by inheriting skills from older generations. We just need to twist a concept a bit. We might not need to inherit the skills but we don’t need to emphasize building physical buildings also. Let’s look at what is needed and find the most cost-effective and innovative ways to make our youths access it.

Important;
You might also want to Google the following terms to understand what I’m talking about; Platform Economy, Sharing Economy, Gig Economy, Freelance Economy, and the Digital Economy at large.

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