Harare – Youth unemployment rates have been declining in Africa in recent years, but the quality of the jobs remains a challenge.
Analysts from the Brookings Institute and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) have pointed out that youth unemployment in Africa is not significantly higher than in other comparator regions and has been declining over the years. However the economic challenges occasioned by COVID-19 have interrupted progress.
United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 8.6.1 undertakes that “by 2020, (countries will) substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training”.
According to the ILO’s 2020 Global Employment Trends for Youth report, “Unemployment rates are on a general declining trend since 2012 from 11.7 percent to a projected 10.7 and 10.6 percent in 2020 and 2021 respectively. Again, the low rates mask high differences between the sub-regions.
“Northern Africa exhibits the highest unemployment rates in the world at over 30 percent in 2019, projected to decline slightly to 29.6 percent in 2021. The rates for (Sub-Saharan Africa) are low and stable at 8.7 percent. The African labour force is young and growing rapidly.
“In 2020, young people aged 15–24 years comprise under a quarter (23.6 percent) of the world’s working-age population. This is in contrast to Africa where they comprise over a third (34.2 percent). Indeed, Africa is the only region in the world where the youth labour force is expanding quickly and on an upward trend.”
Inasmuch as the unemployment rate among young people in Africa is falling, it is not doing so as quickly as in other regions of the world, most notably Asia and the Pacific. The other key issue has been about the quality of jobs that are available.
“The challenges facing African youth in their search for decent work are substantial. It has been argued that for most African young people, the main issue is access to decent quality employment rather than an absence of work.
“Certainly, the quality and appropriateness of education and training can be improved and this will continue to bring substantial benefits, as has been seen over the last two decades. However, approaches that overly rely on supply-side interventions, and which often dominate the youth employment policy debate in Africa, cannot resolve these challenges on their own. It is balanced demand and supply-side interventions that are required,” recommended the ILO.
Analysts at Brookings said youths entering the labour market faced constrained choices.
“The solution is not to reduce access to education, as youth entering the labour force today will likely have another 40 to 50 years of work. As technology changes, they will need the foundational skills that should be attained during primary and secondary education to continue to be productive.
“What (Sub-Saharan African) countries need is more new firms that use a combination of high-skilled and lower-skilled labour. Usually these are large (over 100 employees) firms. Both FDI and domestic investment can create these firms given the right incentives,” advised the Brookings Institute.