Mutual recognition of skills needed for growth – Report

A new United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report urges African countries to come up with policy frameworks that allow for the recognition of academic and professional qualifications across borders to promote development on the continent.

The UNCTAD report, Economic Development in Africa Report 2018: Migration for structural transformation, says that contrary to some perceptions, most migration in Africa today is taking place within the continent. It says lack of progress in the mutual recognition of skills and educational qualifications is discouraging the cross-border movement of labour in Africa, possibly contributing to de-skilling.

“Measures to harmonise skills, competencies and qualifications, implemented in EAC (East African Community), ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and SADC (Southern African Development Community), can allow highly skilled migrants to take advantage of economic opportunities in regional labour markets by addressing underlying issues of skills mismatches,” says the report.

It notes that higher levels of education allow for skills transferability to different sectors and increase the potential to earn higher incomes. Therefore educational level is an important determinant of a person’s propensity to migrate (except when the head of household is well-educated), and influences the mobility of migrants in destination countries.

Launched on 1 June, the report says implementation of provisions on the right to reside are often restricted to highly skilled professionals.

“Highly skilled migrants in Africa have a tertiary-level education and-or professional qualifications, and work as managers, professionals and technicians. Demand in skill-intensive sectors such as education, engineering, finance, management and information technology have been drivers of highly skilled migration in regional markets on the continent,” it said.

To reap benefits from migration, countries were urged to address the constraints faced by highly skilled professionals.

“On the demand side, the lack of policy frameworks that recognise academic and professional qualifications in destination countries can hinder the ability of migrants to enter and effectively engage in regional labour markets, possibly contributing to de-skilling … On the supply side, high costs associated with obtaining work permits, a constraint in some regions, can hinder the mobility of migrants in regional labour markets,” the report notes.

It says highly skilled migration can have a net positive impact on the demand for skills accumulation through higher education in origin countries, resulting in brain gain and in turn, the demand for skills accumulation can stimulate increased investment in education and contribute to a better educated domestic workforce.

It says although there is economic evidence of the welfare-enhancing effect of the liberalisation of labour, developing countries are perceived to be suffering from the loss of their most educated and skilled labour.

However, brain drain in origin countries may have the effect of stimulating investment in education and boosting domestic skills development, thus, emigration prospects may increase incentives for investing in education, supported by empirical evidence at the cross-country level and at the bilateral level.

According to the report, well-managed migration could more effectively allocate labour from areas with excess supply to those with shortages and can play a vital role in promoting economic growth and driving structural transformation on the continent.

“Given the high barriers to entry in skill-intensive sectors, tertiary-level education and-or other professional qualifications are a prerequisite for occupations requiring high skill levels. Investment in human capital development in vocational training and in tertiary education in origin countries is critical in ensuring adequate skills development that can meet the needs of regional labour markets,” reads part of the report.

The report says in Southern Africa, labour shortages in finance, the largest sector in South Africa in terms of value added, have fuelled highly skilled migration from SADC partner states, in particular from Zimbabwe, and from Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda.

Similar labour shortages in information technology, engineering, finance, hospitality and management in some regional markets in Eastern Africa are said to have fuelled highly skilled migration from the region, including among young highly skilled professionals.

It says mutual recognition agreements between various professional bodies within the East African Community allows for cross-border practices among professionals and entitles professionals from partner states in accounting, architecture, dentistry, medicine and engineering to the same treatment as nationals. Such agreements have been vital in facilitating labour mobility among highly skilled professionals within the region, but that is not the case elsewhere in Africa.

It also notes that highly skilled migrants in sectors such as information and communications technologies could play a role in fostering innovation. New economic activities generated within the sector through the development of start-ups and other knowledge-based activities could create additional employment in local economies.

“Besides enabling entrepreneurship and stimulating job growth, such activities could generate knowledge and skills transfers and support the development of skill-intensive sectors.”