Africa’s economic growth has not created enough jobs for youth, Experts say

Kigali, Rwanda, 1 November 2012  – Experts meeting at the Kigali African Economic Conference called on African policy makers to improve productivity and youth job creation to respond to the high unemployment rate amongst Africa’s almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 who are either unemployed, underemployed or in informal jobs with low productivity.

 “African young people are a unique untapped potential”, said Rodgers Mukwaya, an Economic Affairs officer with Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) at the just concluded African Economic Conference.

“Africa’s economic growth of the last decade has created many jobs but not enough for young labour market entrants. African policy makers should address this matter for a more sustainable and inclusive growth,” said Mukwaya.

During a discussion on Youth Employment for Inclusive Growth , Shantayanan Devarajan, Chief Economist for Africa of the World Bank said that 80 per cent of African young people are in informal sector and are probably going to spend their entire working life there.

Devarajan says “We're neglecting 80 per cent; yet informal is normal. W should focus on improving the productivity of informal sector.”

Joining the discussion, Charles Soludo, former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, addressed the issue of low level  and quality of education that produces young people without the needed skills at the labor market. “Our universities are not doing well in responding to the need of the labour market”, he said.

Discussants at the conference agreed that though education in Africa is not the biggest bottleneck, lack of proper training and skills mismatches with regards to the labour market are challenges to youth employment.

Many enterprises in Africa are struggling to fill open positions. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) report says that in Egypt, for instance, about 1.5 million young people are unemployed while at the same time private sector firms cannot fill 600 000 vacancies.

To this, regional integration was proposed as a solution. "Why can't we have one African market, abolish the visas so that anyone can move to get or create a job wherever on the continent?" asked Soludo.

Labour market regulations were also discussed as an issue to youth employment. A Minister from Somalia argued that part of the unemployment problem is because employers prefer more "mature" employees.

Zodwa Mabuza of Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce also noticed that excessively rigid labour regulations exercise a burden on youth. She also added that: “High firing costs can also discourage employers from hiring young workers”.

Mabuza, however, called upon policy makers to involve young people in finding solutions together. "You have to engage young people. You can't develop policies without involving the people who will benefit from it," she said.

As young people are often refused jobs in formal sector due to lack of experience, Mabuza recommended that private sector be given incentives to provide internships for young people, which would help them to acquire necessary experience.