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How Africa Can Harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Owing to its large and growing youth population, Africa, more than many other regions, desperately needs to provide the education and skills training necessary for the jobs of the future. By empowering their people through technology, African countries can leapfrog many development hurdles.

ABIDJAN – Key features of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – accelerating digitalization, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, robotics, and 3D printing – have obvious and important implications for education, employment, and the future of work. This is especially true for African countries. Over the past decade, the share of the continent’s under-20 population has expanded by more than 25%, and is projected to be the continent’s largest age cohort by 2070. As Africa meets the 4IR, its youth will be one of its most important assets.

But to capture this demographic dividend, African countries must overhaul their education systems to prepare for the coming technological revolution. While automation could increase skills premiums and exacerbate income inequality, it also could increase productivity and create new occupations. As such, the 4IR represents a unique opportunity for African countries to leapfrog over development hurdles with the help of technology.

The 4IR will heavily influence which skills are needed in the labor market. Around the world, demand is evolving toward adaptable social, behavioral, and non-repetitive cognitive skills, and away from routine tasks and narrow skills tied to specific jobs. In Africa, demand for software engineers, marketing specialists, writers, and financial advisers is rising, whereas demand for mechanical technicians, administrative assistants, and accountants is falling.