JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — So you have gone to school and gotten a degree, but now where are all the jobs? This is exactly the question that has been running through the minds of Africa’s rising generation of entrepreneurs and recent graduates.
The continent as a whole has more people under the age of 20 than anywhere else in the world. In Sub-Saharan Africa, people between the ages of 15 years old and 29 years old make up more than half the population, with the region’s average age at a mere 19 years old.
Unfortunately, they also account for the majority of Africa’s unemployed sector. According to the World Bank’s statistics, 60% of those out of work in Africa fall within the above range of youth. In Kenya, 1.3 million in the younger generation are unemployed, while in South Africa, that population constitutes almost 10 million.
In an area that apparently has six of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies, it seems unfathomable that so many young people are out of work. Disorganized education systems are the most common cause to blame. The South African government, for one, has created a Human Resource Development Strategy that will focus specifically on improving basic education and hopes to see results by 2030.
A lack of entrepreneurial opportunities and jobs for recent graduates is also a highly contentious problem. Senegalese elections were disrupted in 2012 after the mobilization of the country’s students who took the opportunity to voice their frustration with the government’s failure to produce jobs. Current President Mackey Sall, who gained popularity over former President Abdoulave Wade due to the protests, has since made joblessness his primary focus and recently passed a bill that will create 30,000 new positions.
Many are taking business matters into their own hands, however, and finding a way to facilitate employment in the new generation on their own. Hundreds of humanitarian organizations, such as the Girl’s Empowerment Micro-Finance Scheme, aims to provide out of work African youth with business skills and funds to begin their own start-ups.
Others are taking to technology, which speaks to the generation now in need. Kenyan student Shikoh Gitau, for example, witnessed those in the rural districts using their phones to search for jobs online in Cape Town, South Africa and other cities. She took this as inspiration to create a phone application called Ummeli. By answering 12 simple questions, the application creates a custom CV and circulates it to potential employers. So far, 300,000 people are using Ummeli, and 20% have been able to find jobs because of it.
Underemployment and vulnerable employment are also issues faced by recent graduates in Africa. In cities such as Lagos, Nigeria and Cape Town, South Africa it is not uncommon to see degree holders in working class jobs, such as janitorial and hospitality services.
Ncebakazi Ngawane, 25, gives her insider’s perspective of this condition. “It is very difficult for young people to find jobs, which can be demoralizing – particularly because I know I’ve worked very hard to complete my studies. I think the government should do more by starting projects which will create employment for young people, while also helping local communities.”
Ngawane also cites some of the more extreme impacts of not addressing the issue of unemployed African youth. She claims that she has known many who turned to violence, due to so many obstacles preventing them from getting jobs.
This is a fear that many have speculated in recent years, noticing a trend in violent crime and youth unemployment coinciding. Limited number of job opportunities naturally creates a climate of desperation, driving many to compensate with illegal activities, such as counterfeit scams or illegal immigration. Poorly managed youth populations have also turned to fundamentalist groups and civil conflict in the past, as proven by Somalia’s Al-Shabab and Nigeria’s Boko Haram, which both recruit heavily from the young and out of work.
So much progress has been made in Africa in recent years in terms of education and advancing its position on the world’s economic stage. It is time that jobs follow this upward trend, so as to facilitate the financial and entrepreneurial potential of the continent’s highly capable rising generation.
– Stefanie Doucette
Sources: BBC, BBC, BBC, BBC, United Nations, The Guardian
Photo: UM Connections