Professor Stephan Klasen is head of the Ibero-America Institute for Economic Research at the University of Göttingen and co-author of the IRIBA working paper on the impact of SENAI vocational training in Brazil and its implications for African countries.
This year’s meeting of the Poverty Reduction, Equity and Growth Network, a network of researchers and policymakers focussing predominantly on poverty and inequality issues in Africa, focussed on employment strategies and industrial policy as key elements for promoting sustainable inclusive growth in Africa.
The meeting took place in Lusaka and was co-organised by the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR) and the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. Despite substantial economic growth, the challenge of job creation remains as serious as ever, and will actually grow in coming decades as the number of young people entering the labour market keeps growing. At the workshop there was therefore much discussion about what kind of growth models, and policy frameworks, were suitable to generate employment-intensive growth.
Here a big point of discussion (and disagreement) was on the opportunities and limits for Africa to integrate more fully into global value chains in manufacturing – supported by appropriate industrial and trade policies – or whether it should focus more on primary-product linked value chains and more local manufacturing and services.
Aside from looking to East Asia for guidance on these questions, the Brazilian development model was also discussed in some detail. Brazil also has a large primary product export sector, it has high inequality, and it has used active trade and industrial policy to promote diversification of its economic structure. But the limits of the Brazilian model also became apparent.
As a large economy with a history of import-substituting industrialisation, its industrial sector had a much better base from which to develop (and still struggles to expand); Africa’s challenges (outside South Africa, and maybe Nigeria or Kenya) are much more substantial here. Also, the Brazilian agricultural development model, based on high-tech capital-intensive export agriculture, are only partly relevant to smallholders in Africa who predominate among the poor.
The question of vocational training also received a lot of attention and Brazil’s SENAI system of vocational training was seen as rather promising as it has succeeded in improving the school-to-work transition and reducing the skills gap. To further assess the scope of this training model in Africa, it will be critical to rigorously evaluate the SENAI transplants in Africa that have emerged with Brazilian support as well as the South African vocational training system which has included many of the Brazilian elements.
In short, Brazil’s experience provides many interesting insights and lessons. Their suitability to Africa’s context needs to be investigated in much greater detail.