The skills that will define the future of work in Zambia

“We know that it won’t be easy to establish the necessary foundations needed to capitalise 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.

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 41 percent unemployment rates and large-scale informal sector, it seems unlikely that the robots will be taking over any time soon.

Nevertheless, 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 expertise within the labour market is vital if we are to grow our economy in a sustainable way.


  1. Digital literacy – Surprising no one, first on the list is digital literacy. Today’s world 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 and 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) – 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, better 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.


  1. Information technology specialists – Global technological advancements and factors such as the COVID-19 pandemic have required 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.

2. Leadership: directors and executive management– Despite a global reduction in hiring, demand for directors and executive management has hardly seen a change. This may be because now more than ever organisations require agile leaders who can traverse a volatile environment and deliver businesses sustainability and success.

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 ILO, 83 percent of Zambians work in the informal sector and this trend is predicted to increase given Zambia’s very young population base. While many people think of gig work as a side-hustle or something to do while you wait for a ‘real job,’ the informal sector is going to be the new 9 to 5 for the majority of Zambians. The reasons for this are numerous, ranging from high unemployment rates to organisations needing casual staff.

2. Financial services The advent of ICTs 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.

3. Agriculture sectorZambia’s agriculture sector is still highly untapped, consisting of more than 26 percent of the employed population but only generating 10 percent 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 should adopt more efficient farming practices. However, they also need pricing models that benefit them.

4. Supportive legislation and systems – Like most sub-Saharan countries, Zambia has a young population with over 80 percent of the population falling below the age of 35. With this age structure Zambia will need to create more jobs to meet the rising demand. The future of work in Zambia will involve equipping its young population with skills that can enable it to thrive. In December 2020, the Ministry of Labour released the National Productivity Policy which aims to build productive and competitive human capital by 2030. Additionally, the ministry implemented the 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.


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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