Economies in Africa have grown at unprecedented rates in the last several decades, but continued success will hinge on the ability to build local workforce capacity.  Companies operating in Africa continue to cite difficulty in training, mobilizing and retaining a competitive workforce as one of the biggest issues they face.  India, with its booming economy, experience navigating workforce development in the developing world, and interest in increasing its influence in the continent, is uniquely situated to address these issues.

In 2008, the first India-Africa Forum Summit was held in Delhi, India, and the creation of educational and vocational training opportunities was formally identified as a joint priority.  More specifically, India pledged to establish ten in-country training institutes and provide scholarships for African students to study at Indian institutions of higher learning.  Though India is a country still on the cusp of development itself, its government views investments in African education and vocational training as an opportunity to increase “soft influence” in the region, and strengthen relations with a trading partner that is rapidly growing in importance (Indo-African trade volume is expected to reach $90 billion by 2015).

Reflecting a unique approach to capacity building, many of India’s contributions (both in the private and public sectors) have been products of collaborations between India and a local African institution, and have centered on helping Africans acquire skills in mathematics and the sciences.  Some examples include:

  • India-Africa Institute of Foreign Trade: a project of the African Union and India’s National University of Education and Planning, this institute is run out of the University of Burundi and will offer full-time and part-time MBA programs to African students.
  • India-Africa Institute of Information Technology: a Ghanaian vocational training center that will offer computer software courses developed by the state-run Educational Consultants India.
  • India-Africa Diamond Institute: a training center located in Botswana (near De Beers rough diamond sales operation center) that will provide vocational skills in gemology, diamond grading, and gem polishing.
  • Tata Motors: established a partnership with the Engineering Faculty at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, providing training in various vehicle manufacturing processes to African students.
  • CV Raman International Fellowship: in its sixty year, this grant funds African students to pursue doctoral research in mathematics and the sciences at Indian institutions of higher learning.
  • Pan Africa e-Network (PAEN): a collaboration between the African Union and the Indian government, PAEN currently connects African students in 34 countries to Indian online tele-education and tele-medicine services.  To date, over 2000 students have enrolled in top-ranking Indian universities in fields such as finance, business, and IT. India aims to provide online education to 10,000 African students by 2015.

Though some of these projects are still in nascent stages, India has shown a real commitment to leveraging its skills transfer and workforce training experience in Africa.  To this end, at the second India-Africa Forum Summit in 2011, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh committed an additional $700 million towards education and skills development in Africa.  Today, there are close to 50,000 African students in Indian universities, 15,000 of them on Indian scholarships.  This commitment dovetails with growing “local content” legislation, through which, increasingly, African governments are requiring international companies doing business in Africa to hire local or partner with local institutions.

Building workforce capacity is a formidable task, but if India continues to employ and expand its multi-pronged, collaborative approach, the future for a globally competitive African workforce looks very positive.