In the last decade, Africa has been regarded as the second-fastest growing economy in the world and it is equally expected to host more than half of the youthful population. Reports indicate that one-third of the world’s youth population will be found in Africa by 2050, a significant increase from the one-fifth projected in 2012. Statistics indicate that Tanzania’s population by 2050 may reach 138 million, and the country will become the 13th most populous nation in the world.
The African Union Commission noted that with this growth in population, those under 35 years have great potential and are a valuable human resource to the nations. But how this human resource is exploited will have effects on the continent. The reason being that there is a growing risk if governments at various levels fail to employ this ‘demographic dividend’. It is for this reason that economists have strongly recommended that the growth in the workforce has to be accompanied by an increase in job opportunities. There is a need for Africa to wake up and face this reality as the percentage of youth who are part of the labor force has been highly neglected in the past years.
Analysts have over the years identified a significant gap between an increase in the workforce and the employment rate. From 2000 to 2007, a 2.6% annual increase was recorded in the working-age group in the continent resulting in about 96 million people within the working age. However, this growth was not followed by job rise as only about 63 million jobs were created during that period. According to Statistics SA, the workforce in South Africa accounts for over 18 million people out of which about 13.5 million are employed.
A report published in 2012 by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) indicated that the continent is making efforts to reap the benefits of its rapidly growing workforce and a decrease in the dependency ratio. It equally projected that between 2010 and 2020, about 122 million people will be added to the labour force in the continent, while a decrease will be recorded in the number of dependent children and retired people.
Africa needs more employment to meet rise in the workforce
In Sub Sahara Africa, South Africa is noted to have one of the highest levels of youth unemployment with a record of about 50% of youth who are unemployed. In September 2019, the rate of unemployment in South Africa increased to 29.10 % above the 29.00 % which had been reported in June 2019. And the World Bank statistics had revealed that globally, Rwanda turned to have one of the lowest youth unemployment rates. But the rate of unemployment in Rwanda increased to 16% in the third quarter of 2019 from the initial 15% that was recorded in the second quarter of 2019.
According to the African Development Bank, the high unemployment rates in the continent calls for urgent needs to generate more lucrative jobs for the young population. Furthermore, the International Labor Organization equally revealed that the employment forecasts in sub-Saharan Africa are becoming more and more stagnant. The organization noted that the continent in 2016 had the second-highest vulnerable employment rate and in 2017 the rate remained at 3 percent per year with no possibility of increasing.
The 2012 McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report noted that the official unemployment rate at the time was 9 percent and just about 28 percent of the labour force had stable wage-paying jobs. In 2008, North African countries were noted to have the highest youth unemployment rates but the countries with ‘unemployment’ rates above 20% were Southern and North African countries.
Consequently, the high unemployment rates in Africa are now catching the attention of the African Union, policymakers, African Development Bank and national governments. There have been increased efforts to create sufficient and stable jobs to match the growing labour force. It is however believed that the continent can create from 54 million to 72 million jobs by 2020. This is because it is expected that countries like South Africa, Egypt, and Morocco which have diverse economies could experience rapid growth in the number of wage-paying jobs created.
Challenges facing Africa’s workforce
The youth in Africa are increasingly faced with poor job quality and poor working conditions. It has been reported that close to 1.5 billion people are found in vulnerable employment conditions worldwide which accounts for almost half of the global workforce. However, Sub-Saharan Africa is facing the worst situation where over 70% of the workers are involved in vulnerable employment against the global average of 46.3%. Most of these workers are confronted with poor health and working conditions with very low earnings
One of the biggest challenge which is preventing the youth from getting into the labour market is the lack of work experience. Most often, employers demand several years of work experience during the job application process. Several of these employers are skeptical about investing in training recruits which according to them is time-consuming and may stall productivity during the period of the training. Also, most employers recruit through referrals as they turn to trust their networks. According to research carried out on South African firms, it was revealed that more than 61 percent of these firms preferred referrals as the best mechanism for job matching.
The lack of quality education has also been outlined as one of the factors contributing to youth unemployment in Africa. Africa is noted to have redundant educational systems that have completely failed to correspond to the economic realities happening outside of the school system. The school curriculum is designed to be more theoretical with content which is not developed to respond to the needs of the society. Hence, most graduates turn to be completely ignorant of the realities of the job market and most of them lack the skills which employers are looking for. Moreover, the African Development Bank reported that about 25% of youths in Africa are still illiterate. Although the level of education today is slightly better than in the past decades, the youth remain twice as likely to be unemployed than their parents. This is partly because the low level of education in the continent has created a skills gap among youth who have attained the rightful working age. There is a mismatch between the skills acquired by the youth and the skills required for available employment opportunities. In response, some countries are finding ways to bridge the gap and address this challenge. In Senegal for example, the government has put in place an initiative known as the Agence d’Exécution des Travaux d’Intéret Public which is aimed at training unemployed youth by providing them with temporary work on public infrastructure. Also in Burkina Faso, the government has put in place an apprenticeship system where students can school and work simultaneously as apprentices to gain specific skills in their fields.
All in all, Africa’s demographic dividend remains a huge potential that can be properly exploited to transform the economy. African leaders and policymakers need to create and implement policies that will lead to the development of the labour market to better exploit the potentials of this growing working-age population. More than ever, these leaders have to promote policies which favour the creation of productive jobs. The probability of reaping the benefits that come with an increase in labour force rest in the hands of government leaders.
Article from AFRIC Editorial
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