Africa experiences consistent labour force decline

The Director General, Regional Development and Business Delivery Office for West Africa at the African Development Bank, Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade, said the region’s young population offers an opportunity to help speed up economic recovery.

She said, “West Africa is endowed with a burgeoning youth population that can strategically be harnessed for employment and economic growth” speaking at the launch of the Bank’s ‘Regional Economic Outlook 2020 Report’ in Abuja, Nigeria. The report, which was officially launched by Ghana’s Minister of Finance Ken Ofori-Atta, posited that in West Africa, harnessing the youth workforce could speed economic recovery in the post COVID-19 era.

However, Director General Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade warned that “the labour force participation rate for the working population has consistently declined since the beginning of the millennium from 64.2 percent in 2000 to 58.5 percent in 2019” adding, “This report proffers policy recommendations to address this decline and begin to reverse current trends”.

The report stated growth in West Africa was poised to expand by 4 percent in 2020, but is now projected to contract by -2 percent in 2020. “Although West African countries have made improvements in school enrolment over the last two decades, retention rates remain low with outcomes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics especially poor. Yet demand for these skills is increasing and will define the future of work in view of the unfolding technological revolution,” the report emphasized.

Accordingly, the report pointed to policies needed to improve skills to empower the West African labour force, including accelerating improvements in digital infrastructure to meet the increasing demand for digital services; creating incentives for private sector investment in skills development; and scaling up public expenditure in education to enhance the skills of the region’s labour market.

Ebrima Faal, the Bank’s Senior Director in the Nigeria Country Department, suggested: “Partnering with global technology companies can also create avenues for research and development to boost skills development for the future”. The Ghanaian Minister of Finance, Ofori-Atta noted that, “The economic impacts of the pandemic imply the need for economies of the region to begin considering post-COVID-19 strategies with focus on building resilience in strategic sectors and accelerating regional integration.”

However, the findings and policy suggestions contained in the Regional Economic Outlook offer robust options for policymakers at both the national and sub-regional levels to confront the challenges of sustainable economic development through skills development for the future of work in the post-COVID 19 eras.

By Mohamed Kabba