France promises aid for job training in Africa

French-African Foundation for Mutual Growth President Lionel Zinsou. [PAI Partners]

France announced the creation of a foundation for professional training in Africa at the French-African forum held in Paris on 6 February, to help deal with one of the biggest issues threatening the continent’s future economic development.  EURACTIV France reports

Educating the youth of Africa for the jobs of the future is one of the major challenges faced by the continent, which suffers from a high rate of youth unemployment and a dearth of skilled labour.

Economic bottleneck

“If there is a bottleneck, it is professional training,” stressed Lionel Zinsou, President of the French-African Foundation for Mutual Growth. “In all the conversations we have had with businesses, this has been brought up as the primary concern,” he added.

This view is shared by the African heads of state and government that accepted François Hollande’s invitation to the French-African forum in Paris on 6 February. Macky Sall, the President of Senegal, said “the fostering of young talent is a priority in Africa”.

The foundation, which was agreed on, in principle, at a summit in December 2013, will bring together stakeholders from civil society, the private sector and local communities in three programmes focused on the professional training of Africa’s future business leaders.

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Lionel Zinsou, the President of the foundation, said “The idea of the French-African Foundation for Mutual Growth is to bring together all the stakeholders in the same organisation: the businesses and local communities of France and Africa.”

The foundation will run three education programmes, and benefits from €3 million of French funding. One initial programme aims to accredit training centres, and bring them all up to the required standard, “because the lack of welders is just as great as the lack of geophysicists”, Lionel Zinsou added.

“Leadership” training

The second phase is the launch of a “leadership” training programme for senior executives across Africa, with the support of French university Sciences Po.

The final phase will be a training programme for “young directors,” which will offer 20 places to African students, and 10 to French students.

Another of the foundation’s educational missions is to set up thematic discussion groups between French and African businesses. Ten “clusters” have been launched in strategic sectors like IT, agriculture, sport or support for SMEs.

Demographic challenge

The professional training organised by the French-African Foundation will help respond to one of the greatest demographic challenges of the continent. “This challenge is considerable. We will have to train 300 million African children in 20 years, which has never happened before, not even in China,” Zinsou said.

Another problem in certain middle-income African countries, more so than in poorer countries, is the gap between the qualifications on offer and those sought by employers.

In Egypt, around 1.5 million youths were unemployed in 2011, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), while the country’s companies were trying to fill 600,000 vacant positions.

The same was true of South Africa, where the number of young people neither in work nor training reached three million, including 600,000 higher-education graduates, while companies failed to fill 800,000 vacancies. 

In 2012, the African population between the ages of 15 and 24 reached 200 million, according to an African Economic Outlook study, based on data from several African and international institutions (OECD, African Development Bank, etc.). The study predicts that Africa's youth population will have doubled by 2045, mounting an unprecedented challenge to the continent's education systems. 

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