AfDB noted that West Africa’s burgeoning youth population offers a strategic workforce which can be harnessed for employment and economic growth, despite a COVID-19 pandemic that is devastating the continent and global economies.
Speaking during the reports virtual launch in Abuja Nigeria, AfDB’s Director General, Regional Development and Business Delivery Office for West Africa, Marie-Laure Akin-Olugbade, said that the region’s young population offered an opportunity to help speed up economic recovery.
She further noted with concern that the labor force participation rate for the working population has consistently declined since the beginning of the millennium from 64.2 percent in 2000 to 58.5 percent in 2019.
Olugbade however, revealed that the region’s economic outlook for 2020 proffers policy recommendations to address this decline and begin to reverse current trends.
The 2020 Economic Outlook for West Africa report also highlights developments in the region with particular emphasis on “Skills Development and Education for the Workforce of the Future,” and also investigates the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the region.
According to the report, a low ranking in the human capital index – which measures the mobilization of the economic potential of citizens – has implications for the region’s capability to embrace the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR).
Although West African countries have made improvements in school enrollment over the last two decades, the Economic Outlook report notes that retention rates remain low with outcomes in science, technology, engineering and mathematics especially poor.
The African Development Bank report further notes demand for STEM related skills is increasing and will define the future of work in view of the unfolding technological revolution.
The Economic Outlook report points to policies needed to improve skills to empower the West African labour force.
These include accelerating improvements in digital infrastructure to meet the increasing demand for digital services; creating incentives for private sector investment in skills development; and scaling up public expenditure in education to enhance skills of the region’s labor market.
As regards COVID-19, the report urged countries in the region to bolster their health care systems and increase funding to train and equip frontline health workers.
The report further noted that, enhancing healthcare preparedness and building early surveillance and preventive mechanisms is crucial in saving lives.