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How to develop Zim workers for the future

Various global researchers are convinced that the skills required by the world's future labour force are biased towards STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics). Employees of the future will be in greater demand, if they understand; artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, manufacturing, scientific research, software and machinery development, among others.

Various global researchers are convinced that the skills required by the world's future labour force are biased towards STEM (science technology engineering and mathematics). Employees of the future will be in greater demand, if they understand; artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, manufacturing, scientific research, software and machinery development, among others.

The STEM capabilities will also need to be balanced by other employees who have soft skills such as critical thinking (analysis), leadership ability and emotional intelligence. Since the mentioned soft skills are already available in abundance, nations around the world are more concerned about how to develop more talent in STEM. A failure to promptly plan for the transformation will result in the ineffectiveness of any lagging economies. Such countries will increasingly lose competitiveness. That will then translate into a growing reliance on foreign products and services, alongside increasing domestic levels of poverty.

If Zimbabwe aims to prepare its workforce for the future, there is an urgent need for the relevant authorities (Ministry of Skills Audit) to embark on a national skills audit and then design policies which encourage the increasing number of graduates and PhD holders in the field of STEM. The skills audit may also reveal non-STEM areas which need governmental attention, in order to improve their performance. In that regard, the Ministry of Skills Audit should similarly draft strategies to improve the state of human capital (labour) in the county’s non-STEM fields as well.

Policy proposals

There will be a natural need to increase the intake of STEM students in schools and at tertiary institutions. In order to achieve this, academic entry requirements at A Level and universities will need to be lowered, so as to accommodate a larger intake of students. However, assessment (examination) standards, need not be lowered. The issue of making university access for STEM studies, an exclusive preserve of the brightest students, will need to be re-evaluated.

As more scholars  study STEM qualifications, the economy will be better-equipped for global developments in the fields of STEM, through churning out a greater number of graduates. Since high schools and universities may have limited financial capacity to support this growth in student numbers, the government will need to make provisions through recurrent grants (especially to state schools and universities) which will support the endeavour. In China, for example, between 2012 and 2021, the country's Ministry of Education increased yearly spending on higher education, from $24 billion to $47 billion.

This type of government assistance is what enabled the country to support its unparalleled economic growth in the past few decades.

Without capable human capital, that economic growth would have been stifled.

Due to the exclusive nature of STEM tertiary studies, the graduates from those fields may also find it difficult to secure employment outside their fields of study, particularly in the domestic labour market. Thus, the learners will also need to be capacitated for other non-STEM professional roles, in the labour market. In that regard, mandatory courses in administration, marketing and business communication, for instance, will succeed in reducing the risk associated with a mismatch in the labour market,  when they graduate. This will also add to their effectiveness when they eventually become professionals.

However, if local STEM graduates cannot find employment domestically, they are likely to offer their services in other countries, where they are in high demand. Once they emigrate, they will also be able to contribute to national development through their remittances to Zimbabwe.

Government will also need to keep records on the number of active tertiary research projects, nationally, each year. The data may track all ongoing research at PHD level. However, registration requirements (to notify of occurrence of research) should not be complicated or cumbersome. To make the records more comprehensive, they should also include professional (basic, applied or experimental) research being carried out by both private and public institutions. The expenditures made in these research endeavours will also need to be known.

Keeping track of activities and expenditures in research will be a good basis for understanding whether the country is improving its commitment towards the acquisition of new knowledge, or not. Most robust economies keep records of these metrics religiously. The USA and China, for instance, are the greatest spenders, globally, with around US$720 billion and $441 billion in annual research expenditures, respectively, for the year 2020. As a percentage of GDP the US and Chinese R&D expenditures were an impressive 3.4% and 2.4%, respectively.

In the case of China, to show its commitment, most of its research expenditure typically comprises experimental research, which is attributed to its dynamic state-owned institutions. Since they (USA and China) are the greatest spenders in R&D (innovative research and development), the countries also happen to be the world's two largest economies. This goes to show that, for an economy to grow, or to sustain its expansion, there is an urgent need for it to continually grow its knowledge base. Chinese government and private institutions are regularly interrogating ways to provide better or new solutions to problems.

The number of students studying at PHD level within the country, will also need to be increased, through  various incentives. Government subsidies for PHD students and their respective lecturers, with a focus on STEM, will also assist in realising the greater numbers. The subsidies may include stipends, bonuses or housing (accommodation) incentives, among others. The advantage of having greater numbers of PHD graduates, is in that, they will be more capable of bringing tangible changes to society through their advanced and usually practical skills.

Opportunities for them to collaborate and share knowledge with other foreign  experts, will also increase. If the government has limited funding capacity, emphasis may be placed on the technology and engineering curriculum, ahead of the others within STEM.

The bilateral relationships which Zimbabwe shares with the highly skilled nations of China, Russia, the UK, and so forth, should be translated into knowledge transfers, as much as possible.

Local university faculties will need to be paired with various global leaders in research, through partnerships with top foreign universities. One of the President's top requests during foreign visits, should be to negotiate for collaborative opportunities in research and technology transfers, from the industries and educational institutions of the sophisticated northern economies.

China is the world's largest manufacturer and exporter of cars. For it to get to that height, it had to initially request for knowledge transfers from Russia, to assist with the design of engines, gearboxes and vehicle body parts, in the 1950s. Beijing requested the assistance whilst it was still a poor and underdeveloped economy. It could have opted to emphasize aid and debt from Russia but it chose to secure knowledge for its vehicle manufacturing industry instead.

The example serves to show that, in the future, Zimbabwean political leadership must continually place emphasis on human capital development, in their interactions with countries of a higher development status. This is because industrial capabilities provide greater rewards than debt or donor funds.

In order to increase the pace and vibrancy of R&D (innovative research and development), the country will also need laws and structures which support venture capital activity. "Start ups" (emerging businesses) with various innovations should find accessible channels through which they can raise capital to launch their businesses on a commercial scale. In that regard, legislation may oblige registered financial institutions (banks, insurance companies, etc) to have between 2-5% of their prescribed assets, in the form of "start up" (venture capital) investments. However, intense checks and balances will need to be put in place, to ensure that the legislation does not become a haven for uncouth executives, who may end up supporting their own businesses or kith and kin, clandestinely through the channel.

Registration of intellectual property (IP) should also be accessible and affordable for all. If a Zimbabwean inventor has a dispute around copyright and IP issues, both he and the defendant, should be provided with capable government lawyers to represent and assist them, for no charge. This will be crucial since, the guarantee that IP will be respected will encourage more innovations. Additionally, if local entrepreneurs can secure their IP, they will be able to easily attract capital, as their business-case will not be subject to imitative competition. This will serve the country well because such protected businesses will grow, employ huge numbers and pay taxes, unlike the case where too much imitation of business ideas leads to lower profits and drives most entrepreneurs into the informal sector. When a business cannot secure its IP that means it can also not secure its market. Therefore, it will have to operate informally, as competitors increase and reduce the revenue which it should have been generating exclusively, had there not been imitative entrepreneurs around it.

Knowledge in STEM should ideally advance to a level where reverse-engineering becomes a national philosophy. The country needs to produce engineers who can dismantle any foreign product and reconstruct it, based on the disintegrated components which the product is made up of. This is how China is reported to have gained machinery development capabilities.

It is frequently argued that, Chinese engineers would regularly strip down equipment from the Western world, for the purposes of understanding it and learning how to design  their own alternatives.


In conclusion, Zimbabwe needs to have an audit of its human capital capabilities on a national scale. It is also likely that, shortages are mostly notable in STEM. After the audit, effective strategies will need to be laid out on how the country can increase its STEM professionals, through providing more high-quality graduates in the field (of STEM).

As soon as capabilities are increased in STEM, the nation should be able to move from a dependency on the extractive sector (mining and agriculture) to a more sophisticated economy which is diverse and has a greater role for manufacturing (value addition), technology and services.

On the other hand, some human capital deficiencies may also be easy to identify, using a shallow perusal of local media reports pertaining to each economic sector. For example, certain civil service offices (ID registrations, the courts, etc) are notorious for breathtaking delays. Municipal workers have the same notoriety in other fields (housing inspections or applications for land, etc).

In that regard, the Minister of Skills Audit and Development, will need to assume the responsibility for addressing the inefficiency, if the country is going to remove such distractions to economic and societal progress.

An inefficient public service reduces entrepreneurial, economic and profit making opportunities, for the citizens whom it delays at government offices.

The reverse is also true, since effective government systems imply that, citizens can be able to apply themselves more productively elsewhere, as soon as they leave government offices.

Moreover, since the government is the largest employer, nationally, civil servants largely set the standard for what a Zimbabwean work ethic should entail. Thus, the agility of government workers will need to be improved as a matter of urgency, in order to influence the nation’s overall skills capacities.

Tutani is a political economy analyst. — tutanikevin@gmail.com.

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