African Jobs: Is Youth Unemployment A Threat Or Opportunity?
“Youth unemployment is a ticking time bomb for all of us,” Zambia’s long-standing Finance Minister, Alexander Chikwanda, once said.
This statement remains true to date as Sub-Saharan Africa’s population grows at the fastest rate in the world with over 65 percent of people living on the continent being below 30 years old and 200 million of them aged between 15 and 24 years, according to the African Economic Outlook report.
Though not directly, this has created a big unemployment challenge in Africa largely due to the large number of people entering the labor market every year.
According to the World Bank, 11 million youth are expected to enter Africa’s labor market every year for the next decade as the region’s largely young population increases.
“Africa’s youthful population is a really opportunity here,” said Deon Filmer, lead economist at World Bank’s Development Research Group and Africa Region.
“People are dynamic and eager to take what life can offer them. With population in the rest of the world aging Africa can be a source of workers in the world. With wages rising Africa is in a good position to compete to jobs,” he added.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB) the unemployment average rate in Africa stands at about 6 percent, compared to the world average of about 5 percent. This rate may not seem that high, but the problem is that in most African countries, youth unemployment “occurs at a rate more than twice that for adults,” notes the AfDB.
While each country on the continent faces different challenges and cannot be bundled into one basket, the structural issues that have made many governments not able to create enough jobs are almost the same across the board.
Lack of proper educational programs is one of the main reason many youth on the continent end up in the unemployment bracket due to a mismatch in the skills they’ve acquired in school and what employers, who are mostly the private sector, want.
Many of these youth end up in informal sector jobs that do not fit their skills and don’t offer job security.
“Young people [in Africa] find work, but not in places that pay good wages, develop skills or provide a measure of job security,” reports the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based public policy organization that conducts independent research.
More than 70 percent of the youth in the “Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal and Uganda are either self-employed or contributing to family work,” adds the report.
The other reason unemployment remains a challenge in Africa, a continent where over 70 percent of the people are small scale farmers, is an influx of young people moving to urban areas where job opportunities are already stretched.
The education systems in many nations has created ‘net-white-collar-employees’ — people who believe they can only get good office job in cities. With this mentality, many young people move to populous cities such as Lagos, Cairo, Nairobi and Johannesburg with briefcases full of job applications and move from one office to the other searching for any job.
“There is no way both private and public sector can provide jobs that young people need in the continent,” the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Babatunde Osotimehin warned
“We at the United Nations Population Fund are talking to African governments about new investments in education, skills development, entrepreneurship and vocational training to enable Africa’s young people to innovate and create.”
The private sector detachment from the education process has also been blamed for the lack of marketable skills among African graduated.
While the public sector (government) is heavily involved in building and managing schools and their examination curriculums, the private sector does little and does not go beyond internships and mentorships
“They (private sector) must see themselves as partners in national development, so they must invest in the education system as to make sure that graduates are fit for purpose otherwise they end up cherry-picking as there will not be a large pool to pick from,” Osotimehin said.