Skills for the future of work

Orginally written for Nkwazi

If your imagination runs as rampant as mine, thoughts about the future of work bring to mind artificial intelligence and flying drones taking over the workplace. However, when this visual is juxtaposed against Zambia’s high unemployment rates and large scale informal sector, it seems unlikely that the robots will be taking over any time soon.

However, even within the Zambian context, the world of work is changing rapidly and it is imperative to anticipate how these changes will affect our opportunities and living standards. According to a 2019 International Labour Organisation (ILO) report on Zambia’s human capital, “unlike in the past when workers did not seem prepared for certain transitions in work, there is a chance today that future changes can be anticipated and well prepared for”.

A key part of this preparation includes identifying occupations, skills and industries that will be significant to the future workplace. Developing this expertise within the labour market is vital if we are to increase economic output.


  1. Digital literacy – Surprising no one, number one on the list goes to digital literacy. Today’s globe is driven by Information and Communication Technology (ICT), thus digital literacy is and will continue to be a key skill in the formal and informal workplace. There is a need to urgently scale up investments in the adoption and use of ICTs. This includes the teaching of ICTs in school and providing easy access to ICT products at all levels.
  2. Continuous learning – Today’s workplace is characterised by volatility. This requires employees to be agile and have the ability to reskill/upskill to support business continuity and competitiveness. Individuals and organisations need to create systems that support lifelong learning and are key for continuous development.
  3. Emotional Intelligence (EI) has been crowned the most required trait of the future. EI is the capacity to manage one’s emotions as well as to handle interpersonal relationships skillfully and empathetically. Simply, it is the balance between head and heart. The business argument for EI is that it leads to better staff collaboration, customer service, higher sales and greater employee engagement. In a world where vast amounts of information are literally at your fingertips, production processes can be duplicated and transferred across continents, it makes sense that how we relate to ourselves and others will be key for the future of work.


Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.

Warren Bennis
  1. Leadership: Directors and Executive Management – Despite a global downturn in hiring, demand for directors and executive management has hardly seen a change. This may coincide with the fact that now more than ever organisations require agile leaders who can traverse a volatile environment and deliver business sustainability and success.
  2. Information Technology Specialists –  Global technological advancements and factors such as the Covid-19 pandemic have necessitated many organisations’ to undergo digital transformations. IT specialists and software developers are a key resource to organisations and will increasingly be in high demand in the local job market.
  3. Knowledge workers: Project Managers/Change Managers/Turnaround Specialists  As organisations continuously restructure their businesses to accommodate perpetual turbulence, professionals with expertise in critical thinking, problem-solving and formulating change strategies will continue to be in demand.


  1. Informal sector: Gig work – Creating formal jobs has proven to be a formidable task for Zambia. According to the International Labour Organisation, 83% of Zambians work in the informal sector and this trend is predicted to increase given Zambia’s very young population base. While most people think of ‘gig’ work as a side-hustle or something to do while you wait for your ‘real job’, the informal sector is going to be the new ‘9-5’ for the majority of Zambians. The reasons for this are numerous ranging from high unemployment rates to organisations needing flexible-casual staff.
  2. Agriculture SectorZambia’s agriculture sector is still highly untapped, consisting of more than 26% of the employed population but only generating 10% of Zambia’s gross domestic product. This sector has a high potential for employment creation and economic growth, however, it is largely associated with low productivity because of the traditional farming methods utilised.  Digital technology ought to be leveraged to fully unleash the potential of the agricultural sector. Additionally, farmers can learn to adopt better farming practices and sell more effectively in markets.
  3. Financial services The advent of information communication technologies such as mobile phones has made it easier to access financial services. As of 2019, Zambia has over 6 million registered mobile money accounts providing access to traditionally unbanked populations. This trend is predicted to grow as cash increasingly takes a back seat in financial transactions.
  4. Supportive Legislation and Systems – Like most sub-Saharan countries, Zambia has a young population with over 80% of the population falling below the age of 35. This age structure makes it such that Zambia will need to create more jobs to meet the rising demand. Suffice to say, a cornerstone of the future of work in Zambia will involve equipping its young population with skills that can enable it to thrive. To enable this process the Zambian Ministry of Labour has taken several steps to assess and develop its citizens’ skill and productivity requirements. In December 2020, they released the National Productivity Policy which aims to build productive and competitive human capital by 2030. Additionally, in 2019 they implemented an Employers Skills Development Levy to help fund the development of critical skills in Zambia’s human capital. However, they’ll need to monitor the efficacy of these policies to ensure a talented and competitive human resource.

Zambia’s underlying conditions, such as a large informal sector and high unemployment, do not need to be a disadvantage.

“We know that it won’t be easy to establish the necessary foundations needed to capitalize on Africa’s digital and broader economic transformation, but it can be done. The next generation of African workers, inventors and entrepreneurs have the potential to innovate and thrive.”

– World Bank Social Development Specialist


  • International Labour Organisation. (2019). Future of work: The Zambian experience.
  • World Bank. (2020). The future of work in Africa: Harnessing the potential of digital technologies for all.


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