An open letter to the government on how to tackle unemployment

Definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, according to...
Definition of Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the United Nations institutions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Education as a “cure-for-all” is a myth: “There is this myth that if you simply invest in education, you’ll turn the economy around, but schooling is not enough. You have to arrive with the right mentality—what is the right thinking and attitudes that will promote entrepreneurship and job creation? That’s where it starts.” Our current employment challenges call for a transformation of the traditional rote-memorization education to help young people meet the challenges of our fast-paced times. To do that, youth have to cultivate and exercise the skills of the future that help them create solutions for complex problems while in turn bringing value to the labor market and creating a demand for their skills. These skills for the future are: leadership for courage and confidence as initiators read job creators, hands-on problem-solving creatively, agency for change making and critical thinking, teamwork, and the fundamental skill of empathy. Empathy allows for a worldview rooted in understanding the perspectives and circumstances of others.

Traditional” forms of employment are being replaced due to rapid market and opportunity shifts: As South African Prime Minister Trevor Manuel put it, “Traditional forms of employment are disappearing, especially in the agricultural and mining sectors.” While whole industries are being swallowed by internet-enabled giants including Amazon in the West, vast changes are also afoot within Africa. Traditional jobs are being replaced within increasingly urban, mobile-enabled and consumer-based economies, which “leapfrog” with 21st century technology. Youth need to be prepared to redefine “jobs” based on shifting opportunities and continue to adapt to bridge the skills-opportunity gap instead of sticking what he studied at school ie a journalist to become must become a journalist.

Population growth and social inequality can be hurdles: In sub-Saharan Africa, 10-12 million new workers seek employment every year. This means a growing number of youth will rely on rapid growth in economies for new jobs. Even though six of the fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa, broad-spanning inequality and corruption stand in the way of access to jobs and employment hence the need for governments to actively to rethink policies that tackle inequality.

The informal sector is a source of “unsustainable opportunity”: In many countries across Africa, the largest burden of employment falls on informal streams. In Kenya, 77% of the population relies on the informal sector for their livelihood. Unfortunately, while a job in the informal sector is better than no job at all, it can limit long-term productivity per worker as well as possibilities for quality sustainable employment and an escape from the cycle of poverty.

Rural and urban strategies present different challenges: Africa currently has the world’s smallest population of urban residents. Compared to 14% living in urban areas in 1950, by 2015, 45% of people in sub-Saharan Africa will live in urban areas. This means that employment interventions have to take these changes into account and be mindful to include rural areas with smaller economies of scale and access to markets—as well as consider the unique challenges behind urban employment and the potential for youth exploitation in cities.

Public, business and citizen-sector organizations have a role to play special thanks to the restless development youth map internship program: African governments and international organizations increasingly recognize youth issues as key to Africa’s development. In an address to the International Labor Conference in Geneva this past June, the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, said, “We are determined to step up our efforts to promote job creation, work for the eradication of poverty, achieve growth and allow equitable distribution, particularly for women and the youth.” Countries are moving toward broad-sweeping policy commitments to increase job creation. Nigeria has created a special fund to provide grants of up to $70,000 to young entrepreneurs and Uganda has followed suit. At the same time, large corporations are starting to partner with local businesses and NGOs to develop training and entrepreneurship initiatives to improve the employability of youth. All this is encouraging; however, job creation is an overwhelming social challenge that seems to be the responsibility of “everyone and anyone”: the public, private, citizen sectors and schools. This causes role confusion and a need to share insights across sectors. All of these sectors have much to learn from each other and particularly from the community-based social innovators who are accountable to the people and working across sectors to provide holistic solutions.

Unemployment frustration leads to instability: In the face of chronic unemployment, youth can feel disempowered, frustrated and disoriented. This has key implications for political, social and economic instability in the region as can be evidenced by the global increase in protests in the past decade, many fueled by youth frustration and unemployment not ruling out jihadism.


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