The rapid increase in youth population in Africa is becoming a challenge rather than an opportunity for economic growth.
This is because many of the out-of-school youths are jobless, and as their frustration with the society grows, so also their propensity to commit crime.
While some parts of the world are struggling with how to regenerate their population to cope with the challenges of economic development, Africa on its part is worried that lack of opportunities for its young population is fast becoming the most formidable threat to its existence.
Despite robust economic growth over the past two decades, with one per cent increase in growth between 2000 to 2014, and only 0.41 per cent growth in employment, the figure suggests that employment stood at less than 1.8 per cent a year.
This is far below the nearly three per cent annual growth in the labour force, and if this trend continues, experts are of the view that by 2030, 100 million people will join the multitudes of the unemployed in Africa.
They argued that with a decade remaining to achieve the targets of the United Nations’ (UN) 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the issue of youth productivity is critical for Africa, and should be treated with utmost concern.
This, they said, is because the working age population is central to improving the continent’s productivity and competitiveness.
To tackle the scourge of unemployment and high startup cost for young entrepreneurs in Africa, researchers, youth representatives, business leaders, and policymakers gathered recently at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, for the African Economic Conference (AEC).
The conference is jointly organsied yearly by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to discuss pertinent issues affecting the continent.
Already in its 14th edition, the conference was hosted by the AfDB, and themed; “Jobs, Entrepreneurship and Capacity Development for African Youth.”
It also has several other initiatives that have contributed significantly to youth empowerment across Africa.
Notable among them is its Jobs for Youth Strategy (JYS), which aims to create 25 million jobs by 2025, and equip another 50 million young people with a mix of hard and soft skills to increase their employability and entrepreneurial success.
Addressing the opening plenary of the three-day conference, Egypt’s Minister of Investment and International Cooperation, Sahar Nasr, said the conference provided a critical platform to address the challenges of jobs for African youths.
Emphasizing on the need to think strategically and prepare the youths for the task ahead, Nasr maintained that Africa is the next development frontier, and youths will be the main drivers and hope for a new continent.
Egypt’s Central Bank Governor, Tarek Amer, who is also the county’s Governor for the African Development Bank (AfDB), called on policymakers across the continent, saying, “this is a matter that all policy makers across our continent are concerned about – we all have a vision to create jobs and boost entrepreneurship … and the issue is how to convert the vision into reality.”
Acting Chief Economist and Vice President of the AfDB, Charles Leyeka Lufumpa, noted that lack of jobs for the bulging youth population has become a troubling socio-economic and political emergency that required urgent and pragmatic solutions.
According to him, having a decent job is an essential part of human dignity, and joblessness could threaten social fabric and cohesion.
Director of Macroeconomics and Governance Division at the AEC, Adam Elhiraika, said to prepare young people for productive future work, governments should include in the educational curriculum action-oriented entrepreneurship modules for secondary, technical schools and universities.
He said governments and development partners must help young entrepreneurs to identify financial help schemes, including grant schemes for innovative ideas with multiplier benefits, revolving and guarantee funds.
“Africa should work hard to make its cities engines of growth that in turn will generate employment for the youth, and ensure there is equitable growth on the continent, thus ensuring no-one is left behind as enunciated in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” Elhiraika said.
One of the highlights of this year’s conference is a session for young African researchers to share their work, and be the key proponents in shaping the future of the continent.
Senior Researcher at the AfDB, Adamon Mukasa, examined ways to create jobs for Africa’s youth, focusing on the skills gap issue across the continent.
He informed that under-skilled youth represented 28.9% of Africa’s population, more than double the 13% recorded in other developing regions.
According to him, in education, around 8.3% of youth had reached tertiary education versus 20.6% of their peers in other developing regions.
He added that more than half of about 56.9%, received basic to secondary education only, compared to 36.4% in other parts of the developing world.
This mismatch, Mukasa noted, impacted earnings, job satisfaction and job stability.
He said under-skilled youth often accept mismatched jobs out of desperation, adding that they take the jobs as an alternative to being unemployed.
To help close the skills gap, he maintained that African countries must develop policies to facilitate school-to-work transition of their youth.
He also suggested giving more prominence to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in the education system, to help build skills and knowledge youths need to enter the labour market at a higher level.
Turning the youth bulge into opportunities have been the focus of the AfDB’s game-changing approach to job creation, entrepreneurship, and capacity development.
The Director, Macroeconomic Forecasting and Reserach at the Group, Dr Hanan Morsy, said the Bank developed its Jobs for Youths in Africa (JfYA) Strategy (2016-2025), in recognition of the crucial role that entrepreneurship plays in the creation of high-quality jobs.
He said the strategy aims at creating 25 million jobs for African youths over the next decade as well as equipping 50 million youth with a mix of hard and soft skills to increase their employability and their entrepreneurial success rate.
According to him, the impact is already being felt since its launch in 2016, where over $20 billion had been invested by the bank across 318 projects.
“These investments are directly making a difference in the African youth skills, entrepreneurship, business development and job creation.
“In parallel and working closely with its partners, the bank is helping strengthen entrepreneurship ecosystems in Africa. The flagship Youth Entrepreneurship and Innovation Multi-Donor Trust Fund (YEI MDTF) programme provides interventions that equip the African youth, women-led start-ups, and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) with skills and financial support to run bankable businesses,” he said.