The one subject that keeps many policymakers across African countries awake at night is “jobs.” How do we create decent jobs for the continent’s growing and youthful population? In the era dubbed the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” in which the adoption and diffusion of technology is generating anxiety about the displacement of manufacturing and low- and middle-skilled service jobs, this question is even more complicated.
Leaders should not be afraid of the future of work, though: Digital technologies may have less of the feared displacement effect in African labor markets given that close to 80 percent of Africans are employed in low-wage informal work, and the manufacturing sector, which hosts the jobs most easily replaced by automation, accounts for just about 10 percent of overall employment, as found in a new World Bank report, “The Future of Work in Africa: Harnessing the Potential of Digital Technologies for All.” Rather, digital technologies have the potential to create new, more productive jobs in many African countries.
Then again, African countries are not out of the woods. Significant labor displacement due to technological change may not be a key risk, but there are others that are very salient. There are current and future risks from climate change and fragility, adjustment costs from regional and global economic integration, and rapidly changing demography. To harness the opportunities of digital technologies to create more and better jobs in African countries and to mitigate risks to labor markets from other “mega trends,” productive investments by public and private stakeholders are needed.
Read the full article about preserving the future of work in Africa by Zainab Usman, Indhira Santos, and Jan Loeprick at Brookings.
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