In 2014, a World Bank report noted that 20 percent of Africa’s population is between the age of 15 and 24 years, representing a fifth of the world’s youth population. However, over half of graduates churned out of African universities do not get jobs. Youth unemployment still remains one of the major challenges facing Africa and with its youth population projected to exceed 850 million by 2050, policymakers are tasked with the responsibility of averting a looming unemployment crisis. According to the World Bank, the youth account for 60 percent of African unemployment. Tackling Africa’s youth unemployment will require a crystal clear understanding of the changing dynamics across labor markets and the skills required to fill existing gaps.
Youth unemployment has serious implications. The frustration resulting from living life not knowing where the next meal is going to come from or inability to afford basic needs has led some youth to join extremist groups, descend into alcohol and drug abuse, lead a life of crime and violence and some trying to leave the continent with the hope of getting better-paying jobs outside Africa. All these options have serious risk factors and some youth have paid with their lives.
Over half of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa but Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has failed to keep up and provide jobs for the youth joining the job market. Several elements have contributed to youth unemployment. Chief among these factors is skill mismatch. Education systems are preparing graduates for jobs in sectors that are saturated neglecting skills that are a reflection of labor market realities. This has rendered most young people in the region unemployable.
Three out of five unemployed in sub-Saharan Africa are youth. One of the solutions recommended to solving this perennial challenge is focus on Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). Both governments and international institutions are trying to renew interest in this area. Practical talents are key and will go a long way in supporting national growth, boosting value chains and significantly contribute to economic diversification which is critical to sustainability.
The development of TVET has the potential to transform the socio-economic landscape of Africa and ensure the continent’s youth have the right skills to contribute to economic growth. Developing information technology infrastructure is critical since IT needs to be integrated into TVET. This will improve quality, increase access to learning and bolster technological innovation.
The International Labor Organization estimates that 66 percent of employment in sub-Saharan Africa is in the informal sector. Workers in the informal sector learn their skills on the job in the informal sector rather than in the formal TVET sector. For the TVET sector to produce quality trainees there needs to be quality tools and textbooks at their disposal. Investing in high-quality resources will go a long way in ensuring the employability of students in this sector is assured.
Africa has long suffered from over-reliance on raw materials as its primary export product due to lack of value addition. The continent needs to push for diversification and create value chains through focusing on developing science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and advocate for the inclusion of women in this sector. TVET will compliment STEM and bolster manufacturing, technological innovations and support agriculture through agro-processing.
Structural transformation is key to sustainable economic growth and development. Weathering external shocks will require African economies to shift to innovation and diversification. Embracing technical and vocational education and training will support structural transformation and deliver the much-needed jobs for the youth.