Unlike developing countries in Asia, African countries are not relying on export-led manufacturing to drive structural transformation but instead pivoting to service-oriented sectors. While many services are less productive and absorb less low-skilled labor than manufacturing, certain subsectors, according to recent Brookings Africa Growth Initiative research, can be the catalyst for economic growth and job creation in the changing global marketplace. Termed “industries without smokestacks” (IWOSS), these sectors share characteristics with manufacturing, including being tradable, having high value added per worker relative to average economy-wide productivity, exhibiting capacity for technological change and productivity growth, showing some evidence of scale or agglomeration economies, and being amenable to absorbing large numbers of low-skilled workers. These sectors include, among others, agro-processing and horticulture, tourism, information and communication technologies (ICT), transit trade, and financial and business services.
To examine the potential and constraints of IWOSS to spur inclusive growth, economic transformation, and job creation for workers with different skill levels, AGI and its partner think tanks have been conducting a number of case studies, including in South Africa and Uganda.
Major trends in South Africa
South Africa’s youth are particularly afflicted by a lack of jobs: The country has a youth unemployment rate of 56 percent, far higher than comparable countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the Development Policy Research Unit’s South Africa case study, IWOSS accounted for 66.7 percent (8.8 million) formal private sector jobs in South Africa in 2018. Like many of the other country case studies in the project, South Africa’s economy has been shifting toward IWOSS, but, unlike in the other case studies, that shift has not been taking place in IWOSS subsectors particularly poised to absorb low-skilled labor. Indeed, the authors find that finance and community, social, and personal (CSP) services—sectors that require labor that is slightly more skilled—have seen the most growth. More specifically, the finance sector comprised 13.4 percent of the country’s GDP in 1980, increasing to 22.4 percent by 2018. In contrast, the contribution of non-IWOSS sectors fell: For example, mining’s contribution to GDP dropped from 19.5 percent to 8.1 percent between 1980 to 2018 (Figure 1). Thus, DPRU’s findings are nuanced, as the team finds that the IWOSS overall has the potential to absorb labor, but tourism and horticulture specifically are more likely to absorb low-skilled labor and are poised to experience tremendous growth if certain constraints are addressed. (See the full case study for more details.)
Figure 1. Contribution to GDP by industry, South Africa, 1980 and 2018 (percent)
Source: Allen, C., Asmal, Z., Bhorat, H., Hill, R., Monnakgotla, J., Oosthuizen, M., and Rooney, C. Employment creation potential labor skills requirements, and skills gaps for young people: A South Africa case study. (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2021).
Major trends in Uganda
In Uganda, the growth rate of the population remains higher than job growth, creating unemployment or underemployment, including for the 600,000 youth entering the labor market each year. Underemployment is particularly a problem since much of the youth engage in unofficial services like food vending and are not able to secure higher-value jobs in formal sectors.
The Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC) in Uganda found similar broad trends as DPRU in South Africa, but also noted that different subsectors in the East African country are contributing to its growth. In other words, like in South Africa, the prominence of IWOSS has grown in recent years, especially compared to manufacturing, but the fastest-growing subsectors have been agro-processing and tourism (Figure 2). Tourism in particular has been a major contributor to Uganda’s economic growth, comprising 7.7 percent of the country’s GDP as of 2019.
Figure 2. Uganda’s tourism performance: 2000-2017
Source: Guloba, M., Kakuru, M., Ssewanyana, S., and Rauschendorfer, J. Employment creation potential labor skills requirements, and skills gaps for young people: A Uganda case study. (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2021).
Recommendations for unleashing the potential of IWOSS in South Africa and Uganda
Notably, such growth in either country is not yet robust enough to produce the volume and types of jobs demanded there: For example, as noted above, most IWOSS growth in South Africa has been in financial and community services, which require more high-skilled workers and leave low-skilled workers unemployed. Some of the recommendations from the authors include: increased investment in infrastructure, especially in engineering and town-planning fields, and greater support for postsecondary education and mentorship programs from employers to develop the necessary sector-specific skills.
Like in South Africa, in Uganda, horticulture, agro-processing, and tourism have the potential to create much-needed jobs, and the case study authors find that irregular and erratic business policies hinder the growth of those sectors. EPRC also finds the need for improved curricula aimed at developing digital and problem-solving skills, as well as more investments in road network infrastructure in order to improve transport and communications. To better support horticulture and agro-processing, the authors recommend that the government create policies that would encourage the uptake and adoption of technologies that shorten the wait for clearance at customs and licensing applications.