The sixteenth edition of Africa’s Pulse released in October last year returned quite unfavourable economic results of the African region.
The biannual appraisal of African economies conducted by World Bank observes that whilst Sub-Sahara Africa boasts of the youngest population in the world and its associated positives including poverty reduction and increased shared prosperity, there are several hurdles in the way of this economic prospect.
Chief among the hurdles are the damning skill levels of Africa’s workforce, the lowest in the world as per the report.
This does not reflect the efforts by the respective governments given an average sevenfold increase over the last three decades in public expenditure on education sector geared towards building skills.
Although in Rwanda more staff are trained and equipped for their respective jobs, there is still some room for improvement.
According to the Rwanda Labour Force Survey Report of February 2018, approximately 70.5 of the employed population are reported to be employees, paid apprentices or interns.
However, of this percentage, only 6.3% are professionals and 1% as technician and associated professionals.
Rwanda Development Board (RDB) empowers the youth through several institutional, grassroots initiatives as part of a broad nationwide institutional infrastructure responsible for developing and supporting the growth of entrepreneurial SMEs.
The objective of the initiative, that mainly targets fresh graduates, is to improve the employability of the youth by providing them with skills working directly with small businesses.
Whilst governments play the leading role to arrest the declining trend of skill levels of the overall workforce, the private sector is not without a part to play.
Among a few East African private sector players that have taken the initiative to grow the region’s skill-base is FBW, an established architectural and engineering building consultancy operating across the region.
Paul Semanda the Country Manager FBW- Rwanda reveals that transfer of technological knowledge is a professional responsibility and forms part of the company’s legacy beyond the projects it undertakes.
“It is part of our Human Resource mandate to share technology and the highest possible standards with the people involved on all the projects we undertake. Talented people are our most precious asset.
We are very active in nurturing the development of young professionals throughout the region.”
FBW Group has taken an active and demonstrable role training and educating in East Africa and Europe. Key members of the company management team including Paul Moores – Group Managing Director, Nigel Tilling – Group Projects Director, and Antje Eckoldt – Group Director and Kenya Country Manager; are part of the external review panels of various East African Universities, developing local capacity and transferring their technical knowledge and skills to university students. Joseph Debuni the Director of Engineering at FBW Uganda has been a guest mentor at University of Rwanda.
An in-house intern program provides university students 3 to 12 months of work experience during which time period they hold active roles and responsibilities experiencing all aspects of FBW.
An in-house Continued Professional Development program also enhances the development of its staff and gives international staff a chance to share their experiences. A flexible working plan for its mid tier and junior staff allows staff to get exposed to different work environments and also makes for stronger training.
Semanda is eulogistic in his assessment of the various programs; “The impact of our internal development programmes has been immense,” he says.
“As the company has grown, they have led to a reduction in expatriate staff and increased responsibilities of local staff at management level with great success. Today almost ten percent of all architects practicing in Uganda have trained with us at some stage of their professional journey.”
One of the most recent results of FBW’s drive to share knowledge has seen one of its staff accepted into the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologist (CIAT), the first person to attain the honour in Africa.
FBW also works in collaboration with the Rwanda Institute of Architects (RIA) and Institution of Engineers, Rwanda (IER) platforms that have enabled the company to further their goal of increasing the local skill-base.
For Sub-Sahara Africa to turn the tables, like the Africa’s Pulse report acknowledges, “sweeping structural reforms that can help ensure that economic growth is anchored on a strong footing” will be required on a continental level across all sectors.
Given the magnitude of the challenge, FBW’s efforts to contribute to the development of the young professionals they interact with may not cause more than a ripple in the East African region, later on the continent, but are wonderfully indicative of the importance of the role the private sector can play to bridge the skills-gap.