Human capital is under intense pressure across our Kingdom, region and globally as powerful forces—COVID-19, globalization, demographic and regional shifts, digitization, urbanization, and virtual and informal forms of employment—gain momentum. These forces are changing how, where, and when emaSwati citizens work, but we continue to base human-capital development on a mid-20th-century model: standardized education and one job for life in our Kingdom. This cannot work in today’s world, which demands continuous-growth competition. Ongoing technological change and market transformations require flexible thinking, quick and continuous learning, and mobility. Instead of mass standardization, we need to embrace mass uniqueness and human centricity in our Eswatini education system.
Human capital is not a homogeneous commodity (e.g. uniformity or specialization). It includes baby boomers (age over 60s), who were born during the dawn of the space age; Generation Xers (age over 50s), who rode the wave of personal computing; millennials (born after 1996), who grew up with mobile phones; and Generation Zeros,(or Millennials born after 1999) who are digital natives. Each group has distinctive interests, values, knowledge, skills, experiences, and ambitions. Therefore, to fully participate in our Eswatini society and our economy, they now need special training, jobs, career paths, new ways of developing their professional lives, and retirement plans.
In our increasingly complex post COVID-19 world, it’s not easy to unlock the full potential of each emaSwati citizen. The problem is, in part, the result of ineffective—or non-existent—communications between the Eswatini business sector and our education authorities: there are huge gaps between the goals of our education systems and the needs of Eswatini business. Unless the Eswatini Education Authorities pay much needed attention to the insights of our business and private sector, education and skills development systems in the Kingdom will continue to prepare emaSwati citizens whose competencies will be outdated or in oversupply by the time they graduate, broadening a “qualifications trap” in the Kingdom and beyond.
For this reason, Eswatini employers will struggle to hire the talent they require. Forced to take on people whose skills and experience fall short of what’s needed, employers will have to spend money on retraining. Meanwhile, those whose skills are not in demand will take any job simply to earn a living.
This problem, which FESBC Business Experts coined the “skills mismatch,” is much less obvious than the skills gap, because it creates the illusion of employment and economic and social stability. Yet the economic and human toll of the skills mismatch is heavy across our nation. According to our FESBC Business Survey, the skills mismatch affects two out of five employees in the SADC region. And according to our estimates, the skills mismatch affects 1.3 billion people worldwide and imposes a 6% annual tax on the global economy in the form of lost labour productivity.
It goes without saying however, that the future of our Eswatini economy demands a new approach. To realize the full potential of human capital and to fix the Eswatini national skills mismatch, we recommend at FESBC that our Authorities address the following seven challenges:
- We are insufficiently focused on training for jobs that have not yet appear in our Kingdom. It is expected, that by 2022, 27% of available jobs will be in roles that don’t yet exist in our country according to our FESBC Business Survey.
- Most emaSwati members of the labour force are not involved in lifelong learning (e.g. plumbing, carpentry, fashion designers, masonry, ICT, auto-mechanics, etc) and continuous retraining. But these skills are becoming (unavailable) obsolete at an increasingly fast rate—traditional technical skills, for example, are outdated in two to five years—heightening the need for reskilling and upskilling.
- Many people lack motivation and accountability for personal development. Only 28% of Eswatini respondents to our FESBC survey reported that they consider using (e-Learning) self-service content for learning.
- Access to Eswatini labour market opportunities is limited. About 41% of job seekers find jobs through online platforms, 14% through social networks. Meanwhile, majority of emaSwati citizens lack access to the internet.
- Redistribution of human capital is uneven. In our Kingdom, 90% of job applications are for positions within 100 kilometres of the job seeker’s location; the pool of candidates increases by as much as 20% when the search region is expanded.
- The potential of certain labour categories is locked up. In our Kingdom, for example, working-age people with disabilities make up as much as 7% of the population, and only one-third of them work.
- The values and needs of our labour force are shifting. Generation ‘Z’ youth are ready to accept 10% lower earnings to work fewer hours. Only 36% of that group consider career growth to be a major priority.
Our future Eswatini economy demands a human-centric approach. This approach must be used to help Eswatini workers acquire fundamental skill sets and create an enabling environment for lifelong employability, self-realization, and skills liquidity in a labour market that offers accessible opportunities and is inclusive and focused on people.
At a time of high uncertainty and COVID-19 crisis, our emaSwati citizens need the cognitive and non-cognitive skills and knowledge necessary for adapting to employers’ changing requirements. They need skills that our labour market will continue to demand. At the same time, to be able to choose a career path, and in order to fully unlock their potential, emaSwati must take responsibility for their own professional development.
Nonetheless, for every potential emaSwati employee, our government should ensure equal and open access to development and employment opportunities. Additionally, employers should pursue non-discriminatory hiring on the basis of skills and competencies, taking into account the changing values of employees. Our Eswatini education system needs to find new approaches to the personalized training of future employees, considering their skills and knowledge, as well as employers’ continually changing requirements.
To unlock the full potential of human capital in the face of constant change, we need to shift from mass standardization to mass uniqueness, treating talent not as a consolidated economic resource but as sets of distinct personalities, each set with different needs, capabilities, and potential and each able to make a unique contribution to the Eswatini economy and society.
Our National Skills Mismatch: The Key Barrier to Human-Capital Development: A functioning and dynamic Eswatini economy depends on the system that generates human capital. That system must supply sufficient numbers of emaSwati citizens with the skills, ability and knowledge needed to perform the tasks employers require. Today, as the innovation economy becomes dominant—new technologies and new ways of working demanding new skills and talents—the system is failing to meet our Eswatini labour market needs, leaving employers unable to find and employ sufficient numbers of qualified Eswatini workers.
Commonly known as the skills gap—and facing every second employer—the problem is not the lack of potential employees. Rather, it is the mismatch between potential employees’ knowledge and skills and the tasks for which they are needed. Today, 1.3 billion people have competencies that either exceed or are insufficient for the activities they perform, and by 2030 there will be more than 1.4 billion.
The result is missed opportunities. For example, in 1970, fewer than 1% of South African taxi drivers had a college degree. In 2018, the share of such “high-skilled taxi drivers” in South Africa had reached 15%. Given the right opportunities, these people could take jobs requiring high-performance talent. Meanwhile, workers whose qualifications are insufficient for their jobs are underperforming. They require additional training or retraining. In some cases, they are never successfully retrained.
A Hidden Productivity Tax and Social Risks: Our national skills mismatch is essentially a hidden tax and a qualifications trap. Underqualified Eswatini employees are less productive, and, because they must be trained or retrained, they add to employers’ costs. The hidden tax takes effect also when Eswatini MSMEs and companies have invested in skills and knowledge of employees and then don’t reassign them to the right jobs: the retrained employees remain unused for long periods of time, gradually lose their new skills and knowledge—and motivation. Moreover, by keeping overqualified employees, many of whom require higher salaries, is not cost-effective: they cannot deploy their full potential in their assigned roles.
However, our national skills mismatch is not purely a problem for employers only. For employees, it causes uncertainty about income, employment prospects, and career development. This is exacerbated by news of mass redundancies (layoffs) post COVID-19, and particularly as automation takes over tasks once handled by humans. Whether they are caused by the pandemic, production automation, emerging technologies, business model innovations, market shifts, or the closure of uncompetitive divisions, mass layoffs increase social tensions.
The skills mismatch creates risks for our Eswatini Governments too. Uneven economic growth and global divisions of labour lead to ever-greater (inequalities) disparities among our local and regional economies. Finally, the Eswatini national skills mismatch threatens local and regional productivity growth. Evidence of this is already emerging. In 2016, SADC countries experienced an average decrease in labour productivity of 6%. A negative correlation between productivity and the skills mismatch explains the loss.
The Skills Mismatch and the Eswatini Education System: According to our FESBC observation, the transition to a knowledge economy in our Kingdom, demands a workforce with highly developed digital skills, as well as, for example, complex-problem-solving ability, adaptability, and communications know-how. Meanwhile, the number of professions is growing rapidly, many having emerged in the past 10 to 15 years, bringing deeper specialization and new, independent areas of knowledge. As a result, certain technical skills will become obsolete in two to five years—faster than the average training period for a highly skilled professional.
Yet, the system for building human capital uses a 20th-century approach to training. This approach, which was driven by the needs of large-scale industrial production, demanded workers who would maintain work discipline, meet employers’ standardized requirements, and, generally, remain in the same job for life. Employers would “order” the required number of employees from the Eswatini education system, which operated as an “employee factory,” producing job candidates with standardized education and defined sets of skills and knowledge.
Unfortunately the system remains largely unchanged in our Kingdom, producing many Eswatini workers who lack the skills our labour market demands and, therefore, we are experiencing a national skills mismatch. Without changing its fundamental approach, our education system, aiming to adapt to new, more sophisticated market requirements, is becoming more complex and cumbersome, and courses of training take longer and cost more.
According to our FESBC Business Experts, the cost of tuition and fees for a four-year college education has increased twofold to threefold, net of inflation, over the past 30 years. And according to observation, over the past 50 years, the average duration of tertiary education has increased by factors of 1.9 years to 3.6 years in our developing economy.
Human Centricity: Transforming the Eswatini Education and Labour Markets: The 20th-century social contract, with its standardized education, non-transparent labour markets, job-for-life expectations, student work placements, and internships, makes it virtually impossible to overcome the skills mismatch. Creating the even distribution of human capital needed to solve the problem will require employees, our education system, employers, and our government, to create a fundamentally new social contract, one that is informed by mass uniqueness.
This means creating conditions that allow Eswatini workers to choose where and how to deploy their time and skills, as well as where to focus their training and development. It means providing workers with the skills and knowledge that will enable them to adapt to employers’ changing requirements. According to FESBC Business Experts, the actors in our education system should play various roles as follows:
- Eswatini employees must take responsibility for their own professional development so that they can choose their career paths and unlock their full potential.
- Our Eswatini education system should act as a mediator among employers, our Government, and emaSwati citizens, providing potential liSwati employees and workers with a full toolkit for personalized lifelong training and offering new forms of training that take into account employers’ continually changing requirements.
- Employers should select employees on the basis of their skills and values and should provide opportunities for personal self-realization in the workplace. Employers should consider the values of individual workers to be a competitive advantage that underpins their personal and professional growth.
- Our Government should guarantee everyone equal, open, and personalized access to development and employment opportunities.
Eswatini workers of the future must learn continuously in order to remain in demand, maintain their performance throughout ongoing technological change, and train for activities that do not yet exist. A human-centric approach helps workers of today start preparing for future challenges and permits all workers to acquire a fundamental skill set that includes communication, teamwork, problem-solving, planning, and learning abilities, enabling them to work in conditions of uncertainty and continual labour market shifts. For guaranteed lifelong employability, professional development should continue throughout each worker’s life and follow an individual path.
Meanwhile, the sources of individual motivation need to change. In the past, responsibility for an individual’s professional development was assigned to employers and the state. Today’s business world demands employees who are motivated to take responsibility for their personal growth, in terms not only of learning but also their growth as individuals.
Indeed, fostering this change will not be easy: FESBC Business studies of Eswatini employers have found that in 74% of Eswatini MSMEs and companies, problems associated with employees’ self-realization and motivation are among the most challenging. It is the good old story of guiding the horse to the river but not forcing it to drink.
Yet the human-centric approach demands that employees should—consciously and independently—determine which skills they will learn, define the scope of knowledge they aim to acquire, and decide how much time they will spend on learning. The role of our Eswatini Government and employers is to provide support and ensure the broadest possible access to opportunities to aspiring liSwati seeking employment. This will require not only a shift in how education and training are funded, designed, and delivered but also a change of mindset.
Finally, to unlock human potential, the limits on access to opportunities in the labour market should be removed. These limits take many forms: lack of information about job vacancies, employer bias regarding applicants’ formal qualifications, and the unwillingness of employers to consider special personal circumstances and values when hiring. Such barriers make it more difficult for workers to achieve self-fulfilment in order to perform to the maximum. This could lead potential liSwati to seek opportunities in other industries or (brain drain) abroad.
Collaborate or Pay: Using human centricity and mass uniqueness to prepare today’s labour market for the future will demand new ways of thinking and a collaborative approach as well as investments of time and money. As part of this, our Kingdom should design systems that ensure that its workforce skills and knowledge meet demand, support employee motivation for personal development, while opening up labour market opportunities to all.
In addition to the development of human-centric tools and solutions, there should also be a shift toward greater collaboration among all stakeholders—employees, employers, education systems, government, and regional blocks. Collaboration will be needed not only within our Kingdom but also across borders. Growth rates of countries with open economies are almost three times the rates of those with closed economies. If our Kingdom can have open labour markets and are prepared to share best practices with our SADC region, then we will be far better equipped to resolve our labour market mismatches.
Our Kingdom should create a community of experts to lead global human-capital development and implement education and labour market solutions that foster a human-centric approach. This might include the development of a global platform for exchanging ideas and best practices. Establishing such a community, as well as practical tools to support it, would accelerate the problem-solving process.
In a highly uncertain, rapidly changing world, our Kingdom cannot act alone. Those that try to erect borders will exacerbate the skills mismatch and will end up paying the productivity tax. But through collaboration and knowledge exchange—fostering a more open and international talent market—our Kingdom can secure the technological and human capital needed to create successful, equitable, and future-ready Eswatini economy.