COVID-19 and the future of work by Maudo Jallow

Together with Boundless Minds Uganda, our short blog series  will focus on the workplace post COVID-19. 

Youth employment, skills training and job creation are at the forefront of both organisations. According to recent reports COVID-19 will impact young people in Sub-Saharan Africa the hardest, the aim of this series is to equip all stakeholders with information, expert advice, and a dose of inspiration. 

Our second guest contributor based in Ghana, is Maudo Jallow, an Analyst for the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and Founder of New Nation; an organisation which focuses on mobilising youth to drive socio-economic development in Gambia.

  1. Tell us about your work?

Ordinarily, I provide embedded analytical support to key economic institutions of the Government of Ghana, particularly the Ministry of Trade & Industry. However, since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, I have been working within the Presidential COVID-19 Response Coordinator’s Strategy & Policy team: provided relevant daily briefings, analysis and reports for the consumption of the President of Ghana on policy options, strategy and best practice.

  1. How do you predict the future of work is going to look like after this situation is out of the way?

Many workplaces were already heading towards increased automation, more and more teleworking and a pursuit of the optimal relationship between artificial intelligence and workers. The nature of the measures being used to fight against COVID-19 – social distancing – will only speed up the adoption of AI and force people into less predictable work in the gig economy. We have already seen examples of this in the United States where even small and medium-sized supermarkets are using robots to clean, stock shelves and arrange items. Initially, many assumed that only large companies like Amazon and Walmart would be able to integrate robots in the short term, but due to COVID-19, even small grocers are now relying on robots to do what their store workers used to do. All these companies plan to further integrate AI solutions to help them reduce costs, improve efficiency and revamp operations.

  1. Do you think that these disruptions to work and business are going to affect decisions on hiring especially entry-level staff?

There will undoubtedly be differences between sectors and companies when it comes to decisions on hiring staff going forward. Certain sectors like the airline industry, hospitality and events have suffered greatly from the outbreak so there are likely to be some significant changes made in those sectors going forward. However, Amazon is currently in the middle of a hiring spree to keep up with increased demand. As a result, it is difficult to definitively say how hiring decisions will be affected. What is clear though is that for the next 18 to 24 months, the labour market will be more difficult than usual, especially for entry-level staff. Several companies are making deep cuts and unemployment rates are skyrocketing around the world. 

  1. If you were speaking to a young person who is looking at all this and worrying about how and whether they will be able to make that transition to work, what would you tell them?

I think it is important to have realistic expectations when looking for employment in the next two years. There are currently several crises going on at the same time – low commodity prices including oil for example – that will discourage employers from hiring new staff, especially at entry level. Consequently, people looking for employment in this climate need to be strategic in terms of the sorts of jobs they look for and the sectors they aim for – this probably is not a great time to look at going into the hotel industry, but it is a great time to apply for jobs at an e-commerce company. I would be remiss if I did not also mention that new entrants to the job market need to be more willing than usual to take internships and apprenticeships as a way of getting their foot in the door at little or no cost to the employer. 

  1. What about institutions of higher learning that are preparing young people for work. What should they be doing?

In my opinion, the priority should always be adequately preparing students for the world of work and life in general. Therefore, it is essential that they not only change their teaching methods, but also adjust their courses to reflect the new realities in the job market. For instance, courses need to evolve to integrate skills that employers are looking for in this current job market – ability to work independently, proficiency in programs like Slack and an understanding of tech-enabled systems of working. There has been some reluctance in the past to adapt to inevitable changes, but it is my hope that this crisis wakes both students and educators up to this unstoppable tsunami known as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. 

  1. In your opinion, what measures or policies do you think should be put in place to ensure that youth employment thrives post COVID-19

Going forward, I think the measures and policies to ensure youth employment should focus on three key areas: 

  1. Creating new SMEs and supporting existing ones – most young people are employed by these companies. Fiscal policies, soft loans and direct cash injections can be used to encourage the introduction of essential internship, apprenticeship and entry-level programmes within SMEs so that young people have the chance to learn and work in this difficult time. 

  2. Building new curricula in schools and universities – the jobs of the future will look very different and institutions of education have simply not moved with the times. It is absolutely essential that more and more students are trained in artificial intelligence, robotics and vocational skills so they can find jobs in the future job market. 

  3. Incentivizing impact investments in labor-intensive sectors that are likely to absorb youth labour – making sure that such sectors thrive will go a long way in addressing the supply-side problems that have created unemployment crises around the world. For example, investing in businesses that are into manufacturing, agro-processing, services and communications – to name a few – will lead to more youth-friendly job opportunities. 

Join the conversation on our social accounts #WorkPostCOVID19, stay tuned for the rest of our series. 

Twitter: @MaudoJallow / LinkedIn: Maudo Jallow

Twitter: @Pro_Interns / @Boundless_UG