YOUNG WOMEN AND THE FUTURE WORLD OF WORK
All 90 young women interviewed in Ghana and Senegal—as well as other stakeholders, including educators, employers, and government officials—were asked about the skills requirements in each of the three sectors and the gaps between the skills required by employers and those acquired by the women. The interviews confirmed a pervasive mismatch between education and skill requirements for the future world of work in both countries. Both educational systems produce graduates who are ill-equipped for the labor market, particularly in the ICT sector and for professions that require technical or vocational skills. In the few public high schools and vocational training centers that exist, there is a lack of a skills-based approach that would promote the acquisition and development of key skills and skills required at work during training.
The lack of career guidance in schools resulted in the selection of courses in humanities and care-oriented tracks, encouraged by parents and guardians who are not well informed about changing trends in the labor market. As a result, most women had to learn both soft and hard skills required for their current jobs through opportunities after graduation. However, even young women that have reached some level of formal employment usually cannot access advanced professional training for high levels in critical areas, including management and digital technology. Instead, most interviewees who believed in constant learning and self-improvement to remain competitive had to leverage open sources of learning to upgrade their skills.
The most sought-after skill requirements for the future world of work are seen to be analytical thinking, flexibility, problem-solving, and creativity. Newer skills requested reflect the job market disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic: self-management skills such as active learning, resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility. Both hard and soft skills remain critical and complementary in the workplace.
Technical skills. Predominantly mentioned in the ICT and agriculture sectors, these include knowledge of equipment and technology.
Entrepreneurial skills. These include entrepreneurial consciousness, strategic vision, project creation, spirit of innovation, and risk taking.
Managerial skills. Common managerial skills cited are leadership, communication, interpersonal relations, analysis of socioeconomic and environmental issues, personnel management, and intercultural management.
Commercial and financial skills. These include marketing and commercial strategy, development of quality business networks, understanding and control of financial flows, negotiation abilities, and cash management.
Digital skills. Almost all the young women interviewed had no form of computer training in the formal educational system, even though almost all employers mentioned this as a crucial skill.
Versatility and adaptability. These remain key attributes, especially those operating informally, particularly with the incidence of COVID-19. Most of the young women in the informal segment of BPO have had to diversify as a coping strategy against the negative effects of COVID-19 on their businesses.
Communication skills. The most relevant skills quoted by respondents were effective communication with customers and suppliers and resilience in their businesses. Several respondents highlighted their persuasive communication skills as the key factor to their business success along with good customer service and ability to negotiate with clients and suppliers.
Respondents in Senegal indicated a dire lack of training centers and vocational schools for young women, especially in rural areas. In addition, there is also a lack of continuing training adapted to enable women farmers to combine work and studies to update and strengthen their skills. In both countries, women lacked agriculture-specific production, processing, and marketing skills and knowledge of new market opportunities in the sector, especially in agribusiness. An agribusiness CEO noted that women in formal employment in agriculture are predominantly involved in marketing, human resource, quality assurance, and production supervisory roles, and less in entrepreneurial activities.
BPO and ICT
With multinational technology companies establishing a stronger presence in Africa—in addition to the emergence of blockchain technologies, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence—the BPO sector is creating opportunities that require technical skills. However, none of the young women sampled have been exposed to any relevant training. This lack of exposure reveals significant inadequacy and mismatch between labor demand and supply. Generally, the few women in the sector tend to be involved in marketing, sales, and website and software development. An additional barrier is posed by the perception that such roles are too difficult for women and require more personal investment than responsibilities at home would allow.
Tourism and hospitality
Fluency in foreign languages, especially English, is essential for reception agents and business and partnership managers, who must master oral and written communication with a good command of computer tools and work software. Knowledge and know-how in management are essential for top and middle manager positions in sales, marketing, and event managers for branded hotels. These skills were greatly lacking among the young women surveyed. Like other sectors, hospitality and tourism will have to adapt to a digital global ecosystem (such as virtual tours) in the future and adjust labor needs and demands accordingly.