Driving Work-Based Learning Solutions for Africa: COVID-19 and Beyond

GAN Global in partnership with the African Union Commission, the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) and the British Council convened a webinar on 14 August, linked to International Youth Day, to engage on current policy and practical solutions to COVID-19. All partners highlighted the need to ensure a robust and agile response to the pandemic which has been progressing unabated globally. Of relevance to the discussion was the profound impact on the world of work.

In addition to the threat to public health, the economic and social disruption occasioned by COVID-19 threatens the long-term livelihoods and wellbeing of millions. How the damage of the global outbreak spills over on the African economy in the medium-term may be far more severe than its health impact, given the continent’s weaker economies, the extent of the informal economy and the dependency on aid and international donor support.

Key issues for Africa to emerge sustainably from the impact of COVID-19 and beyond include the need to focus on skilling the current and future workforce and bridging the digital divide. This focus was emphasised by Prudence Ngwenya, Head of Human Resource and Youth Development at the African Union Commission. Ms. Ngwenya noted that almost all the 55 member States on the continent have temporarily closed educational institutions to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, thus gravely impacting learning opportunities.

It was further highlighted that prior to the emergence and spread of COVID-19, education and training systems in Africa were already facing critical challenges on access, quality, and relevance. For the marginalised, including girls and women, those displaced and in refugee camps, the situation was already dire and unfortunately, they have remained most at risk. Coupled with these factors is the fact that the digital divide between Africa and developed regions has become more exacerbated by COVID-19.

The rapid response of the African Union’s Youth Division, through the development of a strategically focused youth and partner strategy was commended. Their proposed solutions cover a wide range of policies from health and sanitation, education, and innovation and entrepreneurship.

The African Union has noted that a critical area of work will be to funnel more youth into jobs that will continue to be important throughout COVID-19 and beyond, which highlights the need for provision of digital skills. The AU is adopting the African Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS) framework that seeks to offer an integrated approach to transforming Africa’s education and training systems through a focus on: digital connectivity, online and offline learning opportunities, teachers as facilitators of learning, safety online and offline, and skills focused learning provision. The need for collaboration and partnership to address the widespread impact of COVID-19 was encouraged and emphasised as a key driver of change.

Robert Njoroge, the Skills and Enterprise Portfolio Lead for Education & Society Sub-Saharan Africa, at the British Council emphasised their work to support work-based learning and the development of a robust Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) landscape across the region. The British Council recently rolled out the I-WORK (Improving Work Opportunities – Relaying Knowledge) project in Ghana, South Africa, India and Malaysia with the work concluding in early 2020. The aim was to enhance technical and vocational education and training to give people across the Commonwealth better opportunities to gain meaningful employment.

Robert noted that inclusive TVET systems that address the labour market response, youth employment and the challenge of jobs and skills mismatch will be instrumental in resolving many of the skilling challenges facing the continent. A responsive TVET system that focuses on the 4th Industrial Revolution, the Future of Work and high value sectors can "become the bridge to an interactive economy" through targeted job creation strategies. TVET and skills development related resources from the British Council can be accessed here.

Unami Mpofu, Senior Programme Officer of Skills and Employment for Youth at AUDA-NEPAD noted the need for strengthening institutional capacity to better respond to youth vulnerability and sustainable youth livelihoods. In addition, decisive leadership is needed for national and pan- African policy commitments on universal, quality, affordable digital access for all. These include lowering the cost of data and devices and making the internet a safe, secure affordable space for learning and skills development. The AU’s Digital Transformation Strategy (DTS) aims to ‘erase the digital divide’ and ‘narrow the gender digital divide’ and is a key policy solution to address digital inclusiveness on the continent.

Cheryl James, Regional Coordinator in Southern Africa for the Skills Initiative for Africa (SIFA) shared the strategic approach of SIFA, as well as the range of on-the-ground solutions that have been deployed in recent months. The focus of the technical component of the programme is to facilitate increased participation by the private sector in skills development and training. As with the work of GAN Global, SIFA recognises the critical role the private sector can and must play to contribute to adaptable and responsive skills development strategies and solutions.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, SIFA has focused on the following programmatic areas:

· Undertaking a series of macroeconomic sector analysis studies to identify the impact of COVID-19 on economic growth and employment opportunities in eight countries.

· Developed a Rapid Response Assessment Toolkit for skills assessments due to COVID-19. The toolkits are comprised of a guidance note and two questionnaires which countries can use to identify the impact on skills development and work-based learning. It will also enable countries to identify the skills needed and economic sectors with the most potential to offer young people the opportunity to upskill and obtain skills for sustainable employment

· Comparative study between South Africa and Kenya on responses to COVID-19 which includes an economic analysis, policy responses and a particular focus on youth, the informal sector and the impact on TVET systems and processes.

· SIFA funding window III. Funding will be made available via a tender process to public private partnership programmes that are seeking to address the new reality for training and upskilling of young people.

All of the studies and tools are available on the African Skills Portal for Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship (ASPYEE) portal housed on the AUDA-NEPAD website.

Magnus Johnson, Philanthropies Lead for Sub-Saharan Africa at Microsoft, shared the range of community-based solutions that the organisation has developed in the region. Microsoft has been leading several innovations in this space by aiming to put the communities they serve at the centre. There is a focus on integrating the needs of underserved communities throughout the entire learning continuum from basic training and learning on digital competencies to more technical aspects.

Microsoft has launched an exciting Skills for Employment Initiative with a target to train 25 million people across the globe on the top ten jobs in tech. In partnership with LinkedIn, LinkedIn Learning and GitHub, Microsoft has also developed a repository of courses, encouraging people to learn and skill, which can help for reskilling those that have been furloughed. More information on the initiative can be found by accessing the link here.

Bella Mupurua, GAN Liaison for the Namibian Employers Federation (NEF) shared what the employers in Namibia have experienced during various forms of lockdown since March 2020 with a direct impact on the labour market and training efforts. The NEF together with the help of the International Labour Organization (ILO) has been able to produce a number of guides that assist with COVID-19 related challenges - the “Work From Home Guide”, the “Business Continuity Pan” template, the launch of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Labour Law Guide and the “Guide on COVID-19 Infections at the “Workplace”.

The organisation also initiated a “Business Survey on the Impact of COVID-19 on Namibian Business”. Work-based learning has mostly ceased in operations in terms of its National Apprenticeship Programme. Employers in the hardest hit industries have reduced and, in some cases, ceased operations. Those in other industries have been challenged by the lack of digital learning on the part of the training providers and thus the theoretical aspect has come to a halt. Although training activities have come to a standstill, GAN Namibia is actively developing strategies for training and development to continue. Plans are in place for a National Apprenticeship Day, a partnership with SIFA and the ILO on the Rapid Assessment Tool with an aim of developing a comprehensive supply and demand survey, as well as ongoing industry and stakeholder engagement to promote work-based learning.

Gladys Quarshie, National Apprenticeship Expert for the British Council’s I-WORK project in Ghana highlighted the commitment of government and other partners to vocational education through the adoption of Competency Based Training (CBT), the existence of a five-year strategic plan, harmonisation of curriculum, establishment of a National Technical and Vocational Education and Training Qualifications Framework (NTVETQF) and sector skills bodies, as well as upgrading, equipping and retooling of institutions. These are important elements of institution building and creating an enabling and responsive TVET framework for improved delivery.

Of particular interest to participants was the proactive COVID-19 response which included:

• A stimulus package for SMEs (Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP), Business Support Scheme

• Support from the Ghana Standard Authority (GSA) and Food and Drug Authority (FDA) in approving innovations from youth in respect to COVID-19, including production of sanitizers, equipment such as the invention of automated solar hand washing machine, personal protective equipment (PPE) and ICT programmes

• Promotion of e-learning and virtual learning to complement traditional training

• Support to institutions developing programmes that address emerging needs, e.g. development of apps/digitilisation and related technology tools

• Investment in youth-sector specific skills and technical training to address some of the most pressing problems facing society.

The speakers in the webinar all emphasised the need for countries to review learning systems and initiatives and assess the role such solutions can play to improve skills acquisition, workforce development competitiveness, economic development and youth employment. The discussion also took into consideration current challenges such as career pathways, access to lifelong and work-based learning as well as improved vocational education systems which offer a sound return on investment ratios. Effective skills development policies and work-based learning practices aligned to the future of work and a commitment from all partners is required to ensure that the most vulnerable and marginalised are not pushed further into poverty.