One in every six people across the globe is a young person. Taking a closer look at the African continent, there are over 226 million young people, aged 15-24 who make up one fifth of the world’s youth population. However, despite these statistics, according to the World Bank, youth account for 60% of the unemployed in Africa. Further, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on economies and the job market in Africa this percentage can only be expected to rise exponentially. Youth unemployment is therefore a ticking time bomb that African states need to urgently address by building forward and retooling of African youth.
In Africa, youth unemployment is caused by a number of factors. First, there is a skills mismatch between the skills youth have and the skills required by the labor market. With the digital revolution, many youth are inadequately skilled thus they tend to offer limited value to the labor market resulting in high unemployment rates. Furthermore, with the effect of the pandemic on the economies, the number of existing jobs vis a vis the number of young graduates has greatly plummeted. Moreover, for a number of the existing opportunities the experience required is often quite high for youth to attain. In addition, the states that face political instability provide a strained environment for youth to access employment opportunities.
Bearing in mind these factors, many African states have put in place a number of interventions to address youth unemployment. These interventions range from policy interventions such as the adoption of the African youth charter to the programmatic interventions such as the institution of youth employment and internship programs to the financial interventions for example provision of seed capital for young entrepreneurs to finance their ventures. These interventions have indeed played a commendable role in addressing youth unemployment in Africa. However, going back to the statistics provided by the World Bank, more still needs to be done to address this ticking time bomb of youth unemployment.
SDG Target 8.5 requires countries by 2030 to achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men including for young people and persons with disabilities and equal pay for work of equal value. In order to achieve this target with the current realities in the continent today, countries need to build forward and advocate for the retooling of African youth. Retooling of African youth means equipping them with the prerequisite skills, resources and knowledge to be able to garner employment opportunities and build forward in a digitally revolutionized post pandemic world.
In order to retool African youth, a youth centric approach must be adopted. This is an approach which involves meaningfully engaging young people as instrumental stakeholders and not as mere tokens in the retooling process. For the retooling process, the labor market trends need to be critically analyzed to be able to identify skills required by the market and implement skills training programs for youth to be in tandem with the current labor market. Moreover, investments and encouragement of youth’s participation in agriculture is fundamental in not only addressing food security but also closing the unemployment gap. In addition, states should continue to promote innovation among young people and create incubation hubs to provide youth with mentorship, training and seed capital for their ventures.
However, this duty of retooling not only lies on the states but also on the youth. In order to address unemployment, youth need to take the initiative to enroll into skills building programs to retool their skills, to actively seek mentorship from experienced professionals within their reach and to be innovative and critical in their problem solving approaches in their communities.
Youth unemployment and the attainment of SDG Target 8.5 will continue to be a prevalent challenge in 2021. It is therefore up to us as a continent to build forward and to embrace collaboration in retooling African youth who are not only the leaders of today but also the leaders of tomorrow.