Even though it can be a way to empower people, education has also been framed as preparing young people for the wrong employers, leading to educated unemployed young people engaged in ‘time-pass’ – waiting, often for long periods, for opportunities to arrive. As the panel highlighted, there are various ways in which we need to rethink how we educate and train young people for the agrifood sector.
First: to what ends are young people being educated? Every educated person should be able to use his or her knowledge and skills to contribute to the wider agrifood sector. However, even graduates are not being absorbed into the sector. At all levels, curricula need to be learner-centred and experiential, meeting the needs of the communities where young people are coming from. Education should open up their minds to seize the opportunities, introduce new ways of doing things, or even start up new initiatives.
Secondly, which employers need the young professionals we are educating, and what skills do they actually require? Throughout Africa, education systems tend to teach students too theoretically, and are not oriented to the needs of the ‘new employers’, especially the private sector. YPARD, the movement for young professionals in agricultural research for development, has highlighted the need to equip young professionals with ‘soft skills’. These include research skills, proposal writing and project management, marketing, communication and administration.
Thirdly, who do education and training providers need to work with, to enable young people to make the transition to a working environment? Research institutions, private sector and communities should collaborate with education institutions at all levels to ensure that education is considered as a holistic process of growth and development, and not a phase in one’s life. Both education and training providers, and these other sectors, can help each other.
Finally, education and training is immensely enhanced by innovation, but there needs to be a way to retain innovative minds in the agrifood sector. Mentoring was highlighted at the panel as the ‘new gap’ that institutions need to invest in if they want to entice young people. Mentoring goes beyond supervising young researchers or interns; it’s the commitment to the process of offering advice and support to young professionals during a critical time of life, when they need to decide on their career paths. Unfortunately, there is little success recorded on mentoring in the agrifood sector that the panel could report.