Empowering the African Youth.
Africa is believed to have over 200 million youths aged between 15 and 24 years old and this number is expected to increase. Each year, 10 million youth graduates join the work force. Because of this, Africa’s labor force will surpass both India’s and China’s by 2040.
A lot has been said and written about Africa’s impressive growth over the past decade and its emergence as the next global economic frontier. Excitement though has been tempered by the reality that for many, growth has neither translated into improved living standards nor created enough jobs especially for the youth.
Some of the ways youth can be empowered is to create more sustainable jobs with decent incomes in strategic sectors and also improving education and skills development.
In today’s reality, where there is no guarantee of getting descent jobs, young people must have the skills to maneuver through different jobs. Transferable skills such as critical thinking and teamwork are as important as specialization and matching the curriculum to the labor market.
African formal and informal education system must place a premium on quality education. Greater investment is needed in higher education, vocational training and skills development. They must also promote specialization so that graduates should be sufficiently skilled in those sectors that offer greatest comparative advantage and should be trained to adapt to future growth sectors.
Africa needs to create more jobs now and the African leaders have to identify the sectors with the most promise and ensure job creation at strategic points throughout the value chain. This will help match better trained graduates with greater opportunities. The question is not really what needs to be done. It is how? The answer is vision, strategic planning and focusing on implementation. Without a plan to create new jobs, the expectations of skilled and employable workforce will be dashed with detrimental consequences.
Consequently, while policy makers tackle the macro issues around job creation, they must also examine at the micro level, targeting industries within local communities. Success stories, such as emerging cassava value chains in Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania provide high potential for youth employment. These must be scaled up and replicated. Through regional integrations, we must accelerate efforts to promote the free movement of people across the continent to widen Africa’s job market.
Some things can be achieved straight away. For example, policy makers can work with business, civil society and other actors to institutionalize internships and increase opportunities of volunteering in Africa. Many African countries, such as Ghana and Nigeria, obligatory national service schemes for young people already exist in various forms. Governments should assess these ready made schemes and should build on their success to expose more youth to public service and work experience.
Undeniably, creating sustainable, income generating jobs will take time in many instances but the work must begin now. The development of Africa’s youth can only be successful and sustainable if all facets of the society are involved. That is to say the international community, the government, private sector, civil society and most fundamentally, the families, must all play their part in preparing African youth to transform the African continent.