Africa faces a pressing problem of youth unemployment. Steadily worsening over the years, youth unemployment on the continent stands at 60 percent. Collective action is needed to find solutions while addressing the structural causes of the problem.
Africa’s youth (aged 15-24) comprise 32 percent the working-age population and 10.6 percent of the unemployed. The face of Africa’s youth is an eighteen-and-a-half-year-old female living in a rural area, with some education and literacy but not attending school. Her main challenge is finding and sustaining productive employment with a reasonable income.
There are several dimensions to the problem of youth unemployment but let’s focus on two. First, there’s a demographic dimension: Africa’s population profile is shaped like a typical pyramid with a “youth bulge” at the base.
Almost half of Africa’s population is under 25; about 75 percent is under 35. By 2050, Africa will account for 35.5 percent of all people aged 15 to 24 or about 462 million of the total 1.3 billion persons globally.
For Kenya, the broader policy questions top of mind include “How many young Kenyans are gainfully employed? How many are actively looking for work, how many are furthering skills and education for employment, how many are inactive, how many are in unpaid domestic work, and how many have given up looking for paid work?” Data research can help pinpoint answers to these questions in the form of granular models and predictions up to 2030.
While a rise in unemployment is a crucial problem, comparing employment data with population data is essential. Understanding the population trends provides further insight into employment trends within 15-35 years old.
With overall population growth, Kenya’s unemployment rates over all age groups have increased from six percent in 2020 to 6.6 percent in 2021 and young people tend to be particularly affected by unemployment.
While of the 15.2 million 17 to 35-year-olds in Kenya, eight million are employed and 1.2 million are unemployed, the more concerning number, which is often overlooked, is that of the six million inactive youth.
Then there is a labour market dimension. The rate at which young people find jobs depends on how prepared the labour market is to receive them and how ready they are for the labour market.
Even with high primary school enrolment with an equal number of girls and boys starting school today, primary school completion can no longer be our goal. Experience worldwide has shown that no nation has achieved a technological and socio-political advance where less than 15 percent of its qualified young citizens have access to tertiary education.
It is not surprising that potential employers in Kenya and elsewhere say that our institutions aren’t graduating people with the skills they need. But, fundamentally, the skills gap and the skill mismatch need to be addressed. The problem is Africa-wide and reflected in Kenya.
We need a plan for action to address these challenges. First, policymakers must build capable states to expand economic opportunities to deliver essential services to citizens. In other words, every Kenyan shilling spent on education, health and other essential services must deliver commensurate value.
We must focus on developing micro, small and medium enterprises as a credible springboard from which to canvas for Foreign Direct Investment. International investors follow the lead of local entrepreneurs.
In addition, policymakers must modernise the curriculum and sponsor programs to assess and re-equip youth, so they have the skills the market will be looking for tomorrow. They must also aim to expand tertiary and university education, explore public-private partnerships, and use technology to innovate and expand education beyond their walls.
While there are challenges, Kenya also has proven potential. It has a dynamic private sector and a vibrant civil society; it is making its mark on the global stage in mobile technology innovation and is vital in the service sector.
Real-time data modelling
The World Data Lab (WDL) together with Mastercard Foundation are partnering to address the youth unemployment challenge in Africa. WDL will lead the development of a pioneering real-time job growth model for young Africans.
The objective is to monitor and forecast employment trends by disaggregating labor force data into sub-groups by age, gender and sector. It will examine employment trends across a minimum of seven countries in Sub-Saharan Africa: starting with Kenya, Rwanda and then Uganda, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal.
To initiate the project, WDL will be meeting with public and private sector partners in Nairobi from 1-6 September and Kigali from 7-10 September 2022.
The purpose is to engage on broader objectives of this innovative project and to seek stakeholder views on the youth unemployment challenge in these respective countries. WDL intends to build a robust consultation process as the project evolves to ensure that the findings can be validated and disseminated.
The job growth model will serve as a standard setter for any policy intervention as it will allow for an immediate quantification of proposed policies.
It will also help in evaluating trade-offs of key policy interventions. In addition, it will enable the general public to monitor progress and discuss this critical issue of their country on the basis of credible estimates.