It is no longer news that youth unemployment is a tall challenge in Africa. In fact, Africa’s youth bulge which should represent a demographic advantage is fast becoming a disadvantage. This is because the rising number of young Africans awaiting employment isn’t matched by the rate of job creation.
Africa’s Youth Unemployment Situation
A look at the numbers across the continent as well as some incidents gives a clear testament of Africa’s youth unemployment situation. If you take a look at the employment gap, then the picture becomes clearer.
Every year, over 11 million young Africans enter the labour market. However, only 3 million formal jobs are created. This leaves a deficit of 8 million jobs. This huge deficit represents a ticking time bomb that must urgently be diffused.
By 2050, given the current trajectory, the number of unemployed/underemployed African youth will surpass 550 million. That’s over half a billion young and restless youths.
Apart from the numbers, every year, thousands of African youths lost their lives in desperate attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Others die along the desert at they try to leave Africa into Europe.
But why? Because of the high level of youth unemployment on the continent.
How do we Tame Africa’s Youth Unemployment Situation?
To tame the youth unemployment situation in Africa, we must look at the labour demand and supply on the continent. In doing this, we must identify the issues and challenges on both sides and proffer adequate solutions some of which are described below.
Skills Development that matches Industry Requirements
Yes, there may be a few cases of absolute lack of jobs. But most times, it’s not that the jobs aren’t there, it’s just that our youths aren’t prepared for today’s jobs. The skills young people across Africa acquire in our institutions of learning don’t match what’s required in the industry.
When young Africans are not prepared to take up jobs available in the industry, these jobs are outsourced to foreigners while youth unemployment soars on the continent.
Africa must therefore quickly build a globally competitive, well educated and highly skilled workforce for the jobs of today and the future, not those of the past.
We don’t necessarily need the traditional 4-year undergraduate program to prepare young people for the jobs of today. Rather, we need some short 6-month to 2-year courses that specifically train young people on the skills they need to be employable.
For instance, with the ensuing industry 4.0, all businesses will need to be online. To achieve this, they’ll need to have a website. Training young people on website development doesn’t require a 4-year university program. Rather, a 3-6 month diploma in website design and development can make youths ready to take up web design jobs.
Strengthening of Industrial Work Experience Programs for Students
Students in Africa must be exposed to industrial work experience. This way, even before graduation, they understand what the industry needs and are able to shape their skills accordingly.
Also, if students are exposed to thorough industrial work programs, they’ll have a platform to showcase talents that might be attractive to employers. This would help increase skills retention and reduce labour flight.
Encouraging Entrepreneurship across Africa
Even in developed countries, small and medium scale businesses remain the highest employers of labour. Therefore, Africa must support entrepreneurship especially among young people.
We must provide the tools and funding young entrepreneurs need to be successful in business. We must also provide the guidance entrepreneurs need. This is in addition to providing the infrastructure young people need to build their businesses.
African governments must commit to full regional integration to allow businesses on the continent to scale seamlessly.
We need leadership, vision and the political/financial will that enable the younger generation, through entrepreneurship, to thrive, prosper and become creators of wealth and employment opportunities.
It is in the light of this regard that I appreciate the good work done by the Tony Elumelu Foundation, an institution committed to empowering African entrepreneurs.
Governments, the private sector, international development partners and donor institutions, philanthropist etc. should also contribute to supporting the growth of entrepreneurship in Africa.
Focusing on Agriculturally-based Industrialization
Specifically, given that Africa is an agrarian society, we must focus on agriculturally-based industrialization that will offer young Africans decent jobs and help lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty into wealth.
Apart from providing jobs for Africa’s young people, agriculturally-based industrialization will allow Africa participate even more gainfully in global value chains.
What this means is that Africa will begin to develop industrial value chains across all the commodities it currently exports.
For instance, we will move from producing cocoa beans and gaining just 2% of the over $100 billion chocolate market to producing chocolates and other derivatives.
We will also move from exporting corn as a commodity, to exporting value added corn-based products like cornflakes, custard etc.
Providing employment for young people in Africa is the only way we can leverage our demographic advantage to make Africa globally competitive.
Therefore job creation must be considered a priority as this is critical to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as well as the African Union’s Agenda 2063.
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