We broke out the champagne recently for our teenager daughter who obtained her Ivorian baccalaureate. I’d already been thinking through what advice I could give a young high school graduate in Ivory Coast (or other young person), and this gives me a nice ‘peg’, as we say in the news business. So, here’s some personal advice. In summary i) learn to learn on the web ii) learn English, touch-typing, computers iii) get global experiences and networks, at least through the web.
Every age and situation has its opportunities and disadvantages. Africa looks set for an exciting next few decades as the challenge of development appears more and more attainable. Nevertheless, you are on the world’s poorest continent and although life here can be among the best in the world and many Africans in the diaspora dream of coming back, on the jobs-front the situation is extremely tough. Official unemployment in Ivory Coast is at least 50%. That means you can’t afford to be lazy – you’re in one of the world’s most difficult employment environments. As in so much in life, success will depend on you working hard and being organised.
Useful skills to pick up
First and foremost, you are entering the age of the autodidact. What this means is that thanks to the web you have access to a range of learning resources that other generations (even in the developed West/China) could only have dreamed of. You can access a vast amount of information and resources. To do so, you just need four things i) self-motivation (you are your own headmaster) ii) curiosity iii) a certain amount of internet knowledge iv) English.
You’re on Facebook. That’s good and many young Ivorians will get on the internet first and foremost to take advantage of Facebook. Facebook can bring you a lot especially as your projects develop and you seek to build networks. But at this stage, it probably can’t offer you very much so limit your time there. Instead you need to get some of the other basics covered, which some of your friends are neglecting.
Firstly, get perfectly comfortable with email. This remains the principal and professional format for long-form communiciation. Make sure you know your email address and respond to messages in good time. There are some Ivorians who are comfortable on Facebook but have never sent an email – they won’t get very far in life.
Secondly, use the web as a research tool. Become a better user of Google by taking advantage of features like Google Alerts to follow your favourite subjects and Google Reader to follow key sites/blogs via RSS. You’ll learn a lot more from blogs and websites than you will from Facebook, which can provide entertainment but not much by the way of education.
Thirdly, consider starting your own blog. You may not have much to communicate, but the act of having a blog will help you learn on the job about communication. It will also give you a start at building your online presence. By having a blog, you can reach out to other people with similar interests both within the country (who you never would have met otherwise) and also internationally (who previously you wouldn’t have had access to). By having a blog, you’re starting to do a key thing – you’re building experiences and a CV to boot. Too many of your compatriots think you just need to complete diplomas and then someone will offer you a job. No – you need to become employable and learn the skills to impress. Particularly outside the country, having things like a blog (non-academic leisure activities) will boost your chances of getting visas, places at universities and jobs.
Fourthly, learn English. You may not realise it yet, but growing up and studying in Ivory Coast has given you a very limited experience of the world. If things work out, you can travel to gain new experiences, but with the web you can also access different worlds. Unfortunately for you, much of this information is in English. By learning English, at least to read and maybe to listen, you can gain access to whole new ways of doing things, which will really broaden your perspectives. If you don’t challenge your thinking with new ways of doing things, you’re unlikely to be innovative and creative in whatever field you’re in.
Fifth, join communities of like-minded people – this is a useful way to get involved, build skills, and get experiences of working in teams. A company thinking about employing you wants to see that you can set goals, work in teams, achieve objectives…all things that it’s difficult to do if your life is just school, home and party.