Feature: Chinese capacity building program fosters skilled workforce in Africa

NAIROBI, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- At the dispatch center at Djibouti's Nagad railway station, the young Djiboutian girl Aisha was watching the staff's operations while paying close attention to the different colored dots and lines flashing on the screen.

As one of the first batch of enrolled students at the Djibouti Luban Workshop, Aisha together with her classmates was learning railway-related knowledge through an internship program at the Djibouti originating station of the Chinese-built Ethiopia-Djibouti railway.

In a recent interview with Xinhua, Aisha said that after three years of training, about 20 young Djiboutian students, including herself, will complete their course at the end of this year and become the first batch of graduates of the local Luban workshop.

The Djibouti Luban Workshop, a vocational training cooperation project jointly implemented by two vocational schools based in north China's Tianjin city, the Djibouti Industrial and Commercial High School and the China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation, was established in March 2019. The workshop was the first of its kind established in Africa.

Considering Djibouti's transportation needs, the Djibouti Luban Workshop offers majors such as rail transport operation and management with a view to helping build a local talent pool for the railway industry.

The workshop in Djibouti, as well as about a dozen of others set up in Africa over the years that offer different majors and courses tailored to the workforce needs of various African countries, has epitomized the growing China-Africa capacity-building cooperation.

PRODUCTIVE VOCATIONAL TRAINING COOPERATION

A report this year by the African Center for Economic Transformation, a non-profit Accra-based think tank, showed that by 2030, sub-Saharan Africa's working-age population is expected to reach 600 million, with youth accounting for 37 percent of that number. However, it noted that African governments must address significant challenges to realize the demographic dividend, including high youth unemployment due to poor quality of education and lack of inadequate infrastructure and equipment.

During the 8th Ministerial Conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) held in Senegal a year ago, China announced nine cooperation programs that it planned to jointly implement with African countries over the next three years, one of them being the capacity building program. This program has been promoted with the aim to boost employment, especially for Africa's huge youth population.

The Luban workshops, as part of the China-Africa cooperation in this regard, have linked Chinese and African vocational schools, helped upgrade facilities, and provided state-of-the-art technology and training for the host countries. Through collaboration among Chinese and African governments, enterprises and schools, 12 workshops have been established so far in African countries such as South Africa, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya.

Different workshops may have different priorities. For instance, in Djibouti, the Luban workshop focuses on developing railway operation talents while in Ethiopia, the workshop aims to improve the teaching-learning process in the areas of mechatronics, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

In efforts to accelerate the digital transformation in Africa, Chinese companies such as Huawei have also been providing ICT training. Huawei launched this month a fund in Zambia to develop local innovation leaders, with plans to provide ICT training to 5,000 local youths and train at least 50 faculty members and government officials on basic ICT skills by 2025. In Angola, Huawei also plans to train more than 10,000 local ICT personnel over the next five years.

In Tanzania, a collaborative project with China was launched in June this year to boost vocational education through the development of new vocational standards in the East African nation. Adolf Rutayuga, executive secretary of Tanzania's state-run National Council for Technical and Vocational Education and Training, said the project will help develop a large pool of talented and skilled workers, and ensure that vocational education graduates meet the needs of the international market.

BOOSTING EMPLOYMENT IN AFRICA

Under the capacity building program announced at the FOCAC's meeting last November, Chinese companies operating in Africa are encouraged to provide at least 800,000 jobs to the locals over the next few years.

According to a report released by Ernst & Young, China's investments in the continent totaled 70.6 billion U.S. dollars from 2016 to 2020, having created more than 170,000 jobs, making it a top job creator in Africa. Instead of bringing workers from afar, Chinese companies in Africa are hiring more from the local workforce.

Chinese business associations in African countries have also been actively involved in local staff recruitment by organizing job fairs. In October, the Chamber of Chinese Enterprises in Zimbabwe partnered with Stanbic Bank to hold a two-day job fair with 30 Chinese companies offering 757 jobs.

"We have learned that it is difficult for locals to find jobs, especially for fresh graduates. That's why we created the platform for bringing job seekers and employers as well as organizations face-to-face to understand their needs and also to meet each other," said Shannel Liu, vice president of the chamber. Liu said over 100,000 locals are currently employed by the chamber's companies.

Vimbai Chiza, Deputy Director of Employment Promotion and Services in Zimbabwe's Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, said the platform is in line with the government's efforts to improve the livelihoods of ordinary citizens. "It is therefore complementary to the government's proposal to promote employment."

In August, the China-Zimbabwe Exchange Center also held a two-day job fair to facilitate face-to-face interaction between job seekers and potential employers.

Meanwhile, in Zambia, organizations such as the Zambia China Old Students Association (ZACOSA) are busy linking the students graduating from Chinese universities to Chinese firms operating in Zambia. "As an association, since 2014 we have been instrumental in providing the link between Chinese companies and those students that graduate from China. I think that in that area we would say we have scored a lot of success," said ZACOSA President Friday Mulenga.

According to the Chinese embassy in Zambia, there are over 600 Chinese enterprises operating in the southern African country. 

Editor: Yu Huichen