A two day conference held on human capital development this week deliberated on the challenges facing African countries in human resource management.
The first annual conference on human capital development in Africa, organized by I-Capital Africa Institute at the United Nations Economic Commission, discussed the challenges African countries are facing in human resource development and called up on all stakeholders to give priority to human capital and talent development.
Gemechu Waktolla (PhD), CEO of I-Capital Africa Institute, told The Reporter that there are many human resource development challenges that Ethiopia is facing. “We have large number of people graduating from universities. Numbers are not an issue for us. But we have quality as a big problem including development of people at universities and in other areas and using them as a critical element is a problem.”
In the words of Gemechu there is lack of awareness among enterprises on the importance of human capital. “If you take organization’s perspective there is still an awareness problem of understanding human capital is a critical element for success. It is not technology and finance that drive the success of a company. Human capital is the crucial element that brings the change. For companies to survive, compete and win in the global market human capital plays a key role.”
Gemechu noted that enterprises should change their attitude towards their employees. He said human capital should be at the center of everything. “I am not saying enterprises should not focus on finance and technology. But I am saying it is people that can change organizations. That is also true for the government and the nation as a whole.”
Fikru Lemessa (Pro.), president of Jimma University, stated that there is huge shortage of human resource in the country. Fikiru said various measures should be taken to address human resource shortage.
State minister of education Samuel Kifle stated that the country which aspires to become a middle income country is building a national education system that can deliver the required human capital. Samuel said the government is striving to provide quality and equitable education system.
The Ethiopian government spends billions of birr every year in building and expanding higher learning institutions. The number of universities has reached 40. More than 27 percent of the government’s expenditure goes to education. However, there is a grave concern on the quality of education.
Kebour Ghenna, executive director Pan Africa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one of the guest speakers who presented a paper at the conference, told The Reporter that the human capital resource problem is not peculiar to Ethiopia. Kebour said human resource development issues are problems faced not only emerging economies; it rather is a global problem.
“Part of the problem is a mismatch between the graduates and what the education system offers to market, businesses and even to government which do not really meet the requirements of these intuitions.”
Kebour said in the case of Ethiopia the system focussed on access to education rather than on quality. “One would understand the philosophy behind it-why access is given priority. We have to also realise that in a fast moving world education becomes very much obsolete unless it really is updated and innovative. That is what mostly lucking in our country. The innovation part is not there.”
According to Kebour, the conditions for the long term solution are already on the way. He said the schools have been turned to focus more on natural science than social science adding that dozens of universities have been built in recent years. But Kebour wonders if these are the type of institutions that Ethiopia would need in the coming years. “Building universities has been a tradition in Ethiopia in the last 50 years. Graduates of the universities are not innovators. We need to create institutions that help individuals be innovative and that is not the case of these universities today,” he concluded.
Gemechu shares Kebour’s view. He said that young graduate should be trained to be relevant to the job. “Perhaps we should revisit the way we teach and train. After graduating from universities how do you develop them? Companies and the government have to rethink about human capital development.”
Gemechu emphasized that there is a problem with the existing perspective with the government as well as the private sector. “We focus on numbers and we do not understand how many of those people are really productive enough. We do not have the right system that produces quality people the job requires. The problem with the education system should be properly addressed.”
Co-organized by I-Capital Africa and Jimma University, the forum attracted more than 200 participants from various African countries and the U.S. Scholars, researchers, company executives and government organizations’ representatives.
By Kaleyesus Bekele