An ACET In-Depth Series:

Secondary Education, Economic Transformation, and the Future of Work in Africa

The future of global labor will be increasingly African. One-fifth of the world’s population under the age of 25 now resides in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is growing at a rapid rate. The region’s working age population is expected to reach 600 million in 2030, with a youth share of 37 percent—bigger than that in China.

With the right combination of education, training, and sound industrial policy, Africa’s youth could be a great asset for the continent’s development and economic transformation and a comparative advantage in world markets. But the challenges are large—and immediate.

Africa already faces high and rising unemployment, particularly among its young workers, who face jobless rates that are essentially double that of adults and too often unmoved by level of education. Even among those who are employed, a majority works in traditional agriculture or urban informal economic activities, where low earnings are pervasive. More and more, the face of the unemployed or under-employed worker in Africa is no longer the uneducated man or woman but a secondary or tertiary school graduate.

Employment projections to 2030 suggest the overall picture isn’t going to change soon, a combination of factors underscored by the rapid evolution of work. Indeed, what is often called the 4th Industrial Revolution is fundamentally disrupting manufacturing technology, with significant implications for the nature and growth of jobs—implications that are more pronounced in Africa, for the reasons just given, than any other region in the world.

In this four-part series, ACET takes a measured look at what African countries should do, in light of the disruptive evolution of technology, to provide productive jobs for their large and fast-growing youth population. The focus is on secondary education, meaning education that comes after primary education (the first six years of school) but before tertiary or university level education, including both academic-oriented secondary schools (both lower and higher) and technical and vocational training institutes (TVETs).

  • Part 1: Africa’s Evolving Labor Landscape

    A large and growing youth workforce holds enormous potential for Africa, but only if the continent’s chronic unemployment—and-under employment—issues are addressed. The solution starts with education.

  • Part 2: High-Potential Pathways for Productive Jobs

    Creating jobs in line with future expectations requires policies that increase productivity as well as enable workers to take advantage of modern opportunities. What areas offer the most potential for better jobs in Africa?

  • Part 3: Getting Schools and Skills Right

    Economic transformation depends on a workforce equipped with the right knowledge and skills to meet current—and future—labor market demands. How can African countries get their education systems on the right track?

  • Part 4: Policy Actions for the Future of Work

    African policymakers face a daunting challenge in designing skills strategies that support transformation goals while also producing a resilient, adaptable workforce for the future. These recommendations offer a path forward.

About The series

The articles in this series are based on the ACET research paper The Future of Work in Africa: Implications for Secondary Education and TVET Systems, prepared by Edward K. Brown, Senior Director Research and Advisory, ACET, and Helen Slater, Senior ACET Fellow. Additional research support was provided by George Boateng, Amanda Aniston, Diana Dadzie and John Dadzie. The paper was commissioned by the Mastercard Foundation for the report Secondary Education in Africa: Preparing Youth for the Future of Work, published August 2020. For more details on the report, read about the virtual launch here or visit the Mastercard Foundation website.

Download ACET background paper
Download Mastercard Foundation report