Helping youth transition from “learning to earning” to reduce unemployment across African countries


Originally posted on October 31, 2014.

By 2050, the youth population (15-24 year olds) across African countries will double – outstripping China and India’s combined youth populations - and comprise nearly 20% of Africa’s working population. These young workers in Africa are also obtaining higher levels of education than in the past. According to African Economic Outlook, 65% of Africans between the ages of 20 and 24 will have at least a secondary school education by 2030, up from 46% in 2010.

The increase in young, educated labor market entrants coupled with Africa’s growing economies have the potential to drive economic and social development in some of the world’s poorest countries. But in order for this to happen, young people must be able to get jobs. Unfortunately, youth unemployment rates across the continent remain consistently high.

The growing youth population will need to overcome two hurdles to employment if it is to support the continent’s economic upswing: the insufficient number of jobs in the labor market, and their inadequate skills sets to qualify for available jobs.

In short, the youth population needs a roadmap to transition effectively from “learning to earning.” While secondary school education is equipping African youth with basic professional skills and the digital literacy required to operate computers, create spreadsheets, and use the internet effectively, employers report that youth lack the soft skills required to work with clients and to receive instruction from senior management.

ICT-enabled jobs contribute to youth employment and empowerment efforts

One particular area presents an opportunity for young people: ICT-enabled jobs. In recent years, the ICT (information and communication technology) sector has been a large driver of GDP growth in many African countries, primarily due to growth in mobile technology and Internet use on the continent. The ICT sector is also creating jobs in Africa. Businesses are increasingly reliant on technology and the Internet, and thisreliance has created jobs in related services fields that African youth are in a prime position to fill. While young workers may not have a depth of workforce experience, they typically possess digital literacy, making them well-equipped to excel in the jobs that ICT has generated.

Prioritizing outsourcing makes employment sense for youth too: the market for employing socio-economically disadvantaged people in outsourcing centers is currently estimated at $4.5 billion and has the potential to reach $20 billion and employ 750,000 people by 2015. In short, outsourced jobs represent important employment opportunities for the growing number of African youth.Ensuring youth in Africa are equipped to perform new ICT jobs successfully

Despite rising education among Africa’s youth, the number of employees prepared for ICT-enabled jobs (such as those in outsourcing) still falls short, for two reasons: lack of soft skills and lack of work history.

According to employers, many young people lack the soft skills – for example, the ability to interact effectively with clients and co-workers – needed to succeed in these service-oriented positions.

Additionally, employers see young people as less employable when they have lingered in unemployment. For young people, finding employment in the first year after high school seems to be a particularly important indicator of future employment. Youth in South Africa who remain at their first job for more than a year are 85% more likely to avoid becoming unemployed. Meanwhile, early unemployment tends to set youth on a lower-potential path from the outset. Young people who are unable to find work in their first year will earn 21% less in total lifetime earnings than peers who get jobs in their first year after school.

Reaching youth in that crucial first year after school

These figures suggest that youth development initiatives could reap outsized returns by focusing on the transition year between “learning and earning.” Our colleague, Tania Beard, wrote about one approach to bridging this skills gap: civil service.

Dalberg recently supported a Rockefeller Foundation report, “Digital Jobs in Africa: Catalyzing Inclusive Opportunities for Youth,” that highlighted Harambee, an organization focusing on this key year. Harambee trains young people based on employers’ demands for skills and places them in jobs best aligned with their skills. The South African youth accelerator has delivered above-average retention rates for companies and above-average placement rates for youth seeking jobs.

While new jobs in the ICT sector and youth development programs like Harambee cannot singlehandedly solve the youth unemployment crisis in Africa, they are an important first step in priming the rising number of youth workers for success.

For more on Dalberg’s work with youth development, click here.