Africa prides itself as the continent with the largest number of young people. However, high levels of unemployment, political instability, lack of vocational skills and education have all rendered the young as bystanders in the growth of their mighty continent. The rate at which jobs are being created in Africa is lagging behind the number of people who need employment, forcing them to do informal work. Everywhere in Africa, governments are struggling to find a solution that will embrace young people to transform the continent’s fortunes.
Close to 60% of sub-Saharan Africa's population is under 25 years old, making up 33% of the continent's total. It is projected that by 2100 Africa’s young people will outnumber the entire population of Europe. This generation of Africa's youth is healthier and have better access to education.
While Africa has recorded progress in education in recent decades, according to the 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance, half of the continent's outcomes have worsened due to the misalignment of education and market needs, in information tabulated from 2013 to 2017.
One of the problems is that there is a sharp decline with each phase of education starting from primary to secondary, then tertiary level. Just about half of those who qualify for secondary education will enrol for tertiary education. This is according to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). Africa as a continent scores lowest in all categories of educational enrolment in comparison with other regions.
A startling statistic is that of the mismatch between education and employers' needs. Across Africa unemployment rates among 15-24-year olds with advanced level is higher than those with basic education save for Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Swaziland. For example, in Mali, 56% of young people with advanced education are without a job as compared to 3.3% who are unemployed with basic education, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
Even the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index 4.0, released in 2019, shows that African businesses have a lot less faith that graduates meet their needs as compared to other parts of the world. Curriculum review is key to ensure those churned out of colleges and universities can solve employers’ problems. Zimbabwe is one country that has started the process of adapting programmes to modern industry trends.
Unesco figures show that only 1.1% of young people aged 15-24 years participated in vocational training programmes in 2017. In a survey conducted by the ILO from 2013-2015, only 16.9% of young people completed an internship as part of their education, and only 10% were receiving training or had received training on the job within the last 12 months.
This misalignment of education and job opportunities has led to a high dropout rate as the young realise that even after school job prospects are low due to slow growth in the manufacturing and information communication technology (ICT) sectors. This leads to more young people to seek employment in agriculture, fishery and forestry sectors, all of which are growing due to improved commodity prices. But most young people are absorbed in the informal sector as vendors, artisanal miners and odd jobbers. Africa is creating only 3 million jobs, yet it needs to make 18 million jobs to accommodate its new labour force.
In terms of women in education, Africa also lags behind the global trends, and while there has been a marked improvement in this area, women are still not at par with their male counterparts. Traditional practices such as child marriages continue to impede the progress of girls in excelling educationally.
Africa now has a unique opportunity to change the continent for the better, with a billion young people, who if equipped with the right skills, will be both more effective on the job market and create employment for others.