African insights into employer engagement in skills anticipation

Stephanie Allais, 2023


Skills anticipation systems aim to align education and training provision to the needs of labour markets, economies, and societies. Aligning TVET provision with labour market skills needs is a policy priority for many African governments, often with guidance, support, and resources from international actors. This article, based on a 2021 BILT-commissioned Scoping Study of TVET trends in Africa1, provides some insights from individuals involved in building or improving skills anticipation systems in African countries. Through a review of policies and research, a continent-wide survey covering 34 African countries2, and interviews with key role-players and experts, different actors in TVET systems were asked about a range of issues in relation to skills anticipation. Those trends are presented below.

Employer involvement in TVET is widely seen as crucial for skills anticipation and responsive provision.

Introduction to skills anticipation

The ILO describes skills anticipation as ‘assessing the future prospects on the labour market and the potential imbalance between the demand for and supply of skills’ including ‘activities to assess future skills needs in the labour market in a strategic way, using consistent and systematic methods’ (ILO, 2015, p. 3). A range of different methodologies are used: analysis of labour force data; interviewing key informants; rapid rural appraisal; tracer studies of graduates; and so on. What is constant is the objective to align educational provision with economic and societal needs, in the hope that this will support development and growth as well as the employment and income-generation prospects of individuals.

Many of these methodologies are, to some extent, in operation across the African continent. The dominant mechanism appears to be based on employer consultation (at national and sector levels) on the side of labour market demand. To align skills supply, qualifications frameworks are prioritized by policy makers, who see them as an important mechanism for employer engagement and supply planning. Below we discuss challenges that policy makers and employers need to tackle.

Main approaches to skills anticipation for TVET systems in Africa

Many sub-Saharan African countries carry out analysis of labour market trends; however, in the 2021 survey and interviews, there were concerns expressed about these. One interviewee described a ‘Labour Market Information System to ‘be able to forecast the requirements in terms of the quality and the quantity of labour’ as under construction. In another country, interviewees explained that the Ministry of Labour conducts a Labour Market Survey, but they argued that it was not done consistently, saying, ‘So, we definitely need to do more studies now … because of all the changes that are happening now’.

Employer involvement in TVET is widely seen as crucial for skills anticipation and responsive provision. In general, a strong focus on engagement with employers was found in the research review and the surveys. Recent ILO research finds that employer associations in many sub-Saharan African countries say they are involved in TVET systems and policy at a national level. Figure 1 below shows that the area where the highest number of employer associations are involved in is national skills and TVET policy. Other areas in which employer associations report high levels of involvement are in governance and management of the TVET or skills system, involvement in skills anticipation, and involvement in apprenticeship law, policy, and systems.

Two main mechanisms for employer engagement emerged from the survey to anticipate labour market skills needs. The first is coordination structures between TVET systems and employers. The second is qualifications frameworks, with the hope that they provide a mechanism to obtain insights from employers about skills needs, as well as to align qualifications and curricula with employers’ skills needs.

Structures for labour market dialogue

Structures for dialogue and employer engagement are in place or in the process of being created in many African countries. Many countries have structures with government and social partner representation. These mainly take the form of national human resource development coordination bodies, and sectoral skills bodies. In more recent years, sector skills bodies have been a popular policy intervention, because they are envisaged as intermediary bodies with a strong role for employers (ILO, 2021). Sector skills bodies are often funded by an earmarked levy and are tasked with advising government on skills needs, overseeing the development of occupational standards and qualifications, and of quality assurance. In our scoping survey, both sets of bodies were mainly spoken about in the future tense, as about to be functional or in the process of being, or expecting to be, set up.

Qualifications frameworks would not typically be understood as part of skills anticipation systems. However, stakeholders across Africa described them as such, due to the involvement of employers in specifying skills needs as part of the design process. The starting point of these systems is engaging employers about where they have skills gaps and anticipate skills needs.

For example, a TVET policy maker emphasized consultation with employers approximately every five years, through sector-based ‘Industry Skills Committees’ to obtain insights into skills needs at the time:

“And one of the reasons for this is really to ensure that all qualifications registered in our system on the framework are relevant, fit for purpose and, you know, basically endorsed by the industry as what they need. The main reason why we have qualifications and … we keep on designing new qualifications is because we need to make sure that the quality, the skill set that any graduate obtains through … the learning exercise, that certified skill sets in line with the needs of the industry, occupation, career, and … competencies required for you to carry out that career successfully.”

Another policy maker explained that the National Qualifications Framework Information Management System provides a basis for identifying specific new qualifications. Many interviewees used the future tense to discuss the role of qualifications frameworks in this regard.

Four challenges and an opportunity

Our research foregrounded four challenges arising from the emphasis on qualifications frameworks and building employer involvement in skills anticipation in African TVET systems.

The first is the difficulties of actually involving employers—while the systems are premised on employer engagement, policy makers indicate that actual engagement is limited. Further, not all employers are represented—so the views expressed, may not reflect all those of a particular industry. As explained by a government interviewee, ‘I think most companies that are really involved are the government companies.’ He went on to say, ‘sometimes when you get to companies … maybe they think that you are coming to, I don’t know, to steal their knowledge, or something like that. Maybe you are coming to take it and give it to the other company’. While barriers to enterprise cooperation are not unique to Africa, engaging private sector enterprises arose as a specific challenge.

Second, many workers are working in the informal labour market for informal employers which are less likely to be involved in formal coordination structures. Enterprises not registered for tax nor licensed are, by definition excluded from formal sector structures. As a result, it tends to be large employers that are more likely to participate in both qualification systems and coordination structures. Skills anticipation policies and reforms being implemented in TVET systems in many African countries seem to take inadequate cognizance of the reality of African economies and labour markets.

Third, the nature of employer engagement creates a disjuncture between analysis of current and emerging economic demand for skills on the one hand, and those for medium to longer term skills anticipation on the other hand. Employers tend to be focused on current and emerging skills needs rather than longer term needs.

In the survey undertaken for this research, respondents indicated that national government ministries and agencies are seen as the main players responsible for identifying current, emerging and long-term skills need (Figure 2 and Figure 3 below3). Employer organizations play some role, with trade unions and TVET providers playing a much smaller role.

Survey responses showed little distinction between labour market analysis for current and emerging needs on the one hand, and anticipation of future needs on the other. Interviewees viewed both as the same. There is little indication of industrial policy and economic development strategies seeing skills as part of planning and conceptualizing transformation in each sector—which is where future skills needs might be expected to emerge.

In the survey undertaken for this research, respondents indicated that national government ministries and agencies are seen as the main players responsible for identifying current, emerging and long-term skills need.

Finally, the fourth problem: there was a consistent gap between policy aspiration and actual implementation. Experts and policy makers interviewed spoke at length about policy intention, the goals of new systems, the direction of change and national structures, agencies, and systems that were recently established, or about to be established. In terms of what existed, many interviewees spoke about labour market analysis as outdated, or about-to-be-done, or about-to-be-improved.

The wish and plan to engage employers presents an opportunity that policy makers can build on: the notion of employers as co-creators of skills. Once employers see themselves as embedded in the skill formation system, and have ongoing relationships with providers, real responsiveness as well as adaptive capacity may be improved.

Conclusions on skills anticipation systems in Africa

There is evidence that countries in Africa are receiving international support to build new structures to work with employers to anticipate their skills needs —often on a sector basis. But this presents some contextual risks:

  • The informal nature of labour markets in Africa risks that the important enterprises and sectors are not involved in this process.
  • Anticipation systems might be dominated by large international and/or state-owned enterprises.
  • Because trade unions are weak in most African countries, there will be less balance between the traditional European style social partnership of enterprises and trade unions or workers’ associations.

These structural risks may undermine the capacity to have robust and contextually appropriate skills anticipation needs on the labour market demand side. Responses frequently reported that the involvement of employers was a future aim rather than a current reality.

Finally, many respondents viewed the development of national qualification frameworks as a demand-side intervention across the TVET system—because of the process of involving employers in specifying skills gaps and skills needs, whereas this type of policy is more usually associated with planning educational programmes and curricula.

What does this mean for how TVET systems can respond to new skills needs due to green and digital economies and societies?

Whether the TVET systems in Africa can actively support the digital and green transition of their economies and societies is dependent on issues broader than this research brief covers. Specifically to anticipating those skills, one clear hindrance raised above is the tension between skills required in the immediate term and those required for the longer term. From the perspective of current and emerging skills needs, labour markets in the short term may require workers with additional technical skills for specific technologies such as e.g. solar energy quickly—requiring adaptive capacity from TVET providing institutions. Employer feedback into the TVET system in such an example, provides valuable input for an increased understanding of the labour market and the identification of skills needed.

However, whether employers have the capacity, capability, and interest to be part of skills forecasting and anticipation for the longer term is more uncertain. The capacity and capability of TVET providers to adjust their provision to longer term skills needs which may not be in current labour demand is equally questionable.

The digital and green transition and the knowledge, skills and competencies required to build a livelihood in digital/green economies and societies goes beyond those required for the labour market. The broader perspective of the citizen should also feature in this discussion.

The purpose of the Atlas is to shed light on the trends experienced across TVET systems in Africa, Asia and the Pacific and Europe while pinpointing examples of how some of the challenges discussed above are addressed.

  1. Carried out by the Centre for Researching Education and Labour at the University of Witwatersrand, lead author Stephanie Allais.


  2. In the text presented below, some illustrative quotes from survey respondents in Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and the Seychelles are given. They are not attributed as they are representative of answers given from TVET stakeholders across all 34 countries surveyed, which are listed in full in the complete report.


  3. (Numbers rather than percentages are given as respondents were able to choose up to three answers).



ILO 2015. Anticipating and matching skills and jobs. Guidance Note. Geneva: International Labour Organisation.

ILO 2021. A Resource Guide on Sector Skills Bodies. Geneva: International Labour Office, Skills and Employability Branch.

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