Impact of 4IR on the future of work for African youth

Saturday July 31 2021
4ir pic
By Diana Elinam

Dar es Salaam. In their report on the future of work, the World Economic Forum (WEF) says that, by 2022, the job skills most required by employers will include not only proficiency with new technologies, but also creativity, emotional intelligence and critical thinking skills.

“The report also indicates that over half of all existing workers will require re-skilling and up-skilling to meet the demands of the changing labour market.”

This was shared by Jumanne Mtambalike, a technology enthusiast and the founder of Sahara Ventures, during a pilot Webinar series on matters of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (Stem). Held in Dar es Salaam on July 27, the event was organized by Mwananchi Communications Ltd (MCL) through its digital and innovation division, Habari Hub.

The Webinar was attended by other notable figures in the economic and technology ecosystem such as Ambassador Ami Mpungwe and Mr Mihayo Wilmore, who also serves as head of Habari Hub.

Further expounding on what the future holds for employees, Mr Mtambalike said a future employee is not only expected to be knowledgeable but adaptive as well.

Giving a contrasting analysis, he said that what differentiated a current employee and one from a decade ago was the patience and formality at the work place. “In today’s world, employees have a short attention span and they can execute and deliver with minimal set up, as such, work formalities have greatly changes, but efficiency in delivery remains a priority.”

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According to the digital expert, the shift to technology had not only affected how we work, but it also informs the hiring processes.

“What used to be done manually is now done digitally, but also, the decision-making process has changed, today, most decisions are based on intuitive knowledge [sic] hence emotional intelligence, a contrast from the previous factors that only focused on intelligence and physical efforts,” explained Mr Mtambalike.

Further highlighting the change, Mr Mtambalike pointed out that employees’ focus on climbing the work ladder had shifted and they now focused their energy in creating their own path.

The impact of the global pandemic Covid-19 was also pointed out as a catalyst to the change. This is primarily due to the virus’ role in rendering many people jobless, compelling them to find new ways of functioning that utilizes manpower but not necessarily with man being present.

Mr Mtambalike pointed out that it was important for young people to utilize on the wealth of digital and technological knowledge readily available online. “Some of these topics are on relevant digital skills, social media marketing skills, relevant IT skills and many more other courses. A few of these platforms include Allison, Coursera Udemy and LinkedIn,” he shared.

Showing the influence and opportunities that are availed to students through innovative thinking, according to the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology (Tanzania), ICT-based solutions are making an impact on society.

For example, an ICT based solution for Pesticides Authenticity Verification researched by a student, Catherine Ngirwa, under the supervision of Dr Mussa Ally Dida, was adopted by Tropical Pesticides Research Institute (TPRI) and Tanzania Telecommunications Corporation Ltd (TTCL).

This goes to show the abundant opportunities that are available in the technology ecosystem if youth decide to take the leap. The influence could also shape the future of work as we know it.

For Mr Wilmore, a veteran in the telecoms industry and the wider technology industry, the digital shift was all about being innovative and pioneering. He has on numerous occasions marvelled at the innovative pace exhibited by players in the telecoms industry, especially when it came to financial matters.

As a result of such agility, Wilmore says that long term players in the financial sector such as banks found themselves a pace behind their telecoms counterparts when it came to providing access to mobile money transactions. Connecting this notion to the future of work, it means that employees have to be agile and pioneer their way to prosperous careers in order to stand a chance to remain relevant.

When people talk of the future of work, one of the questions that often comes up is ‘When is the future starting’? According to Mr Mtambalike, the future is already here. He says it is already disrupting and making people, especially the young generation ask themselves how they can adapt to make the changes work especially for the 18 million youth in Africa who need employment.

With countries like Estonia allowing E-Citizenship, Mr Wilmore took a moment to reflect on where Tanzania stood, to which Mr Mtambalike responded that regulators and the government were already at work overseeing the transformation.

“The transformation comes with changes in policies and regulations. Therefore there is a need for harmonization,” he said. He also acknowledged that transformation comes with a few challenges as well, such as: taxes, managing expectations, social security issues, quality of work, etc. Nevertheless, he said that the most important thing right now was how policymakers and regulators were well aligned with experts and researchers so as to create reliable regulation that will not put the innovations at risk.

The role youth can play in influencing policy changes is something that often gets overlooked, however, according to Mtambalike, youth themselves need to work hard and grab seats at the proverbial table.

To further heighten the need for youth to play a leading role in shaping the future of work, Ms Asha Abinallah, founder of Media Convergency Tanzania, called for the establishment of a centralized body to deal with startups, pointing out that this would boost the productivity of young innovators in the country.

The online meeting also looked at Tanzania’s position at the continental level when it comes to industrial revolution. Mr Mtambalike said that Africa was changing towards urbanization and the role of technology and digital was very crucial in this journey and should hence be adopted.

Establishing local industries that are adoptive to digitalization and technology is one of the suggested solutions.

The Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology (DIT) working together with technology experts is pushing for the unveiling of a super computer for a specific reason of building a community around artificial intelligence.

Mr Mtambalike said that the utilization of the digital space and technology will ensure that the skills and talents to solve our problems are available. In doing so he also emphasized positive use of innovations that come with the digital space.

He also noted that together with other stakeholders they were now pushing the National Economic Empowerment Council to assess if a fund can be established to benefit startups.

He also advised employers to revise the digital transformation strategy in order to know the type of technologies that work for them by improving human resource policies and the whole organisational structures. He emphasized that the issue of the fourth Industrial revolution is not a luxury but a must and it is one of the solutions to the unemployment crisis that youth are facing.

Ambassador Mpungwe said that despite of all the changes, work would always be there and the only thing that would change was how to execute roles.

He stated that the biggest challenge on the future of work was how people were prepared for the future. Are policies especially education policies being established in a way that benefits and encourages students to jump into be in line with the fourth industrial revolution and digital transformation?

Mr Mpungwe also touched on the dichotomy between rural and urban areas, saying that, despite spending six months on his farm in Ifakara he was still able to access his bank account and his newspaper remotely from his farm.

Rural areas were changing in Tanzania - and if the requisite resources are available, people in rural areas can also readily adopt to the changes.