Youth Unemployment in West Africa

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ABUJA, Nigeria- West Africa is currently seeing a high rate of unemployment in its youth. While this is certainly a problem on its own, combine unemployment with the issue of underemployment, and the foreseeable future for many young people in West Africa does not look promising.

Unemployment is simply individuals who do not work or do not have an income. On the other hand, underemployment is when a person holds a job, but is either paid less than the job deserves or is overqualified for the position.

Underemployment creates many problems that can decrease a person’s chances for success. For example, when in this situation, a person is essentially wasting the skills and knowledge that they hold by working in a position that requires less of them. Also, many people in this condition have little chance to increase their income, stifling the desire to improve and move up in the system. This leads to complacency with performing average tasks.

Both unemployment and underemployment can severely hurt a country and its economy. Economic development is nearly impossible when an entire generation is being kept out of the labor force. The people who are suffering most are those right out of college — the most educated people. These educated graduates have the best ability to impact economic growth, but when they are unable to find work, the country is holding itself back from development.

An article from IRIN Humanitarian News and Analysis says, youth unemployment “hinders and degrades the role of young people in society and the development of their countries, and it reduces their personal well-being and future opportunities.”

Youth unemployment can be correlated with higher crime and social unrest, especially within large cities. Unemployment leaves many in poverty that could have the ability to support themselves if they had the opportunity. It can also create strong social divides, leading to problems among the citizens. The impact that unemployment has expands into almost all aspects of a nation. “The effects of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, are multidimensional,” Minister of Nigeria’s National Planning Commission, Dr. Shamsuddeen Usman, said.

Possible solutions to the problem in West Africa of unemployment and underemployment are being contemplated. At a conference called Learning from Past Experiences for Future Opportunities in Youth Employment in West Africa, various organization and business leaders came together to discuss the problem facing their countries.

At this workshop, the various leaders discovered that all the countries of West Africa are experiencing the same problems. Their young population is growing at a rate far too fast for the economic development going on. A cycle has been generated that makes it difficult for the youth to gain employment.

The large take-away from the workshop was that a program needed to be created, implemented and analyzed to ensure effectiveness. The program would emphasize the importance of the private sector and its ability to provide jobs for graduates. This would allow those who possess high-quality skills to use them in the workforce and to ensure that they are being paid sufficiently for their positions.

County Director for Nigeria Mary Francoise Mary-Nelly expressed her happiness with the conference and her aspirations to build on what was shared during it: “We want to build on the momentum that this workshop has created for policy discussions around youth employment interventions.”

Sources: IRIN, IEG World Bank

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