Youth unemployment remains among the most significant challenges African leaders and policymakers are facing as more and more youth continue to find themselves outside work, putting pressure on governments to find urgent solutions.
It is anticipated that the continent will continue to face a massive labour market challenge in the next several decades as more young people graduate from school with no immediate job opportunities to absorb them.
According to a report on Secondary Education in Africa, published by MasterCard Foundation last year, the continent has the world’s youngest and fastest-growing population and unlike the rest of the world, the population will keep getting younger as the century advances.
However, formal employment is not currently projected to grow fast enough to absorb Sub-Saharan Africa ‘s expanding youth population. This has been exacerbated by COVID-19 outbreak.
“IMF estimates that approximately 20 million jobs need to be created per year over the next two decades to meet demand,” the report reads in part.
“In the East African community an estimated 2.6 million jobs must be created each year between 2015 and 2030; that means that 7,000 jobs must be created every day across the region simply to absorb the growing population.”
In Rwanda, there are more youth turning 18 (approximately 250,000 youth per year) than there are formal sector jobs in the entire economy.
The report further says that to employ the growing youth cohort, African economies will have to rapidly generate high-productivity jobs.
The report further notes that Africa has experienced a sustained period of jobless growth, with employment growth remaining low since 2000, at around 3 percent per annum, despite relatively strong economic growth.
The African Development Bank (AfDB) estimates that regional employment elasticity of GDP – a measure of how responsive growth in employment is to economic growth – is 0.41.
It means that a one-percentage-point increase in economic growth will only translate into a 0.41-percentage-point increase in employment growth.
To address the employment challenge, African economies must either achieve significantly higher growth rates or increase the labour intensity of that growth.
It will take efforts of governments, the private sector, partners, entrepreneurs, educators, and young people to ensure that 30 million young people in Sub-Saharan Africa can access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030.
What can African countries do?
It is estimated that the global workforce will increasingly be African. Africa is currently the youngest continent in the world and will continue to be for the next several decades.
By 2075, the youth population in Africa will surpass that of India and China combined.
In a bid to tap into the benefits of the demographic dividend, African countries and partners have to invest in Secondary education in a relevant way, to ensure that graduates have the right skills they need to enter the global workforce.
The report says that countries have a significant task of ensuring that young people secure employment or can create their own livelihoods.
Rwanda is among the countries which have started initiatives with partners like MasterCard Foundation, to prepare young people and equip them with the knowledge and skills sought by employers but a lot more is still desired.
Youth need to be equipped with skills that can help them to succeed as entrepreneurs, with hope that they can find work in the informal sector or be self-employed for the foreseeable future, rather than looking for jobs.
The report notes that digitalization, automation and technological advances are changing the nature of work globally, including in Africa and those trends will increase uncertainty and the pace of change, raising the premium on skills that help young people be adoptable, resilient, and creative problem solvers.
“Endowing youth with those skills will help drive productivity gains in both the formal and informal sectors, improving livelihoods and potentially spurring economic transformation,” the report observes.
“Secondary education will be a key platform for young people in Africa to enter the world of work. The vast majority of youth in Africa leave the education system and transition into the world of work before entering tertiary education.”
Of the 98 percent of young people who enroll at the primary level in Sub-Saharan Africa, only nine percent make it to tertiary education, and only six percent graduate.
While preparing students for tertiary education remains critical, secondary education systems will increasingly be called upon to prepare youth to earn an income and lead meaningful lives as citizens of a global world.
Vocational Skills Key
Integrating vocational skills training was cited among the key areas of intervention that can make a huge difference.
Countries like Rwanda have adopted technical and vocational education and training (TVET) programs targeting upper secondary level graduates but for some, vocational training is seen as an option for people who failed to make it to university.
The report says that despite many governments’ desire to expand it, formal TVET constitutes only a small proportion of secondary education in Sub-Saharan Africa – around 7 percent of enrolment.
Rwanda has in recent years been increasing the number of TVET schools and set a target of 60 percent of secondary-level students to be enrolled in TVET, with 13 percent of secondary-level students enrolled in that form of education as of 2018.
According to Steve Kamanzi, the Country Director of Education Development Centre- EDC Rwanda, which partners with the Government of Rwanda and MasterCard Foundation, the impact of TVET can be felt if soft skills or employability skills are integrated into the curricula.
“We know that youth who go to TVET are equipped with different skills such as carpentry and woodwork, construction skills and many others but what they are not given are the soft skills they need to thrive in the labour market,” says Kamanzi.
EDC Rwanda, which supports soft-skills development, says soft skills are very important and go hand-in-hand with the hard skills obtained in school.
They entail communication, attitude, client relations, and conduct, which give one an edge on the market.
Kamanzi says soft skills are part of the relevant skills needed to ensure that young people are well-equipped to take advantage of new opportunities in an increasingly digital, automated, and connected world.
Why Investment is important
For African countries, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, to achieve these targets, governments must invest in secondary education, which MasterCard Foundation says will be central in achieving the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Investments to improve education and stimulate employment will allow youth to play a pivotal role in realizing economic transformation targets.
MasterCard Foundation believes that now is the time to rethink what skills young people require and to intentionally design secondary education systems with those skills in mind.
This however cannot be achieved without investing in highly skilled teaching workforces because essentially teachers cannot equip students with skills, which they don’t have themselves.
According to the report, over 10 million additional secondary school teachers will be needed by 2030 to meet demand for secondary education on the continent.
Due to the rapid expansion of education systems, many teachers lack necessary qualifications.
“Teachers need to be better prepared not just in subject matter knowledge, but also in the types of pedagogies that are shown to impart 21st-century skills and in the integration of digital skills throughout the teaching and learning process,” the report advises.
“Ensuring that high-quality teachers are in classrooms is one of the most strategic investments a country can make to enable all students to develop the skills they will need in their working lives,” it adds.
According to Solange Mukayiranga, the Education Manager at VVOB Rwanda, for this to happen, there must be regular training and refresher courses for teachers to keep them updated with the latest skills.
“An assessment we did showed that teachers’ skills need to be regulated upgraded and discussed with the Ministry of Education to see how this can be done and how we can intervene,”
“We came up with a project which MasterCard Foundation agreed to fund. Today we are operating in 17 districts where we train science and math teachers and school-based mentors who train other teachers and this is working,” Mukayiranga said recently while appearing on KT Radio.
Remuneration of Teachers
Among other issues that affect secondary education is the remuneration of teachers which goes hand-in-hand with developing their skills.
With teachers’ salaries very low, experts say teachers cannot equip young people with employable skills when they themselves are struggling to make ends meet.
“As we are looking at improving the capacity of teachers through re-skilling and giving them opportunities to further their education, we are also looking at how best the welfare of teachers can also be improved,” Mugenzi said.
He said the Government of Rwanda has put in place initiatives through which teachers can supplement their incomes as well as incentives through the teacher’s savings and credit scheme Umwalimu SACCO.
Mugenzi noted that while increasing salaries to the desired level can require huge budgetary resources, bonuses and access to credit through the savings scheme do fill important gaps and ensures that teachers have the basics they need to carry on their duties.
If these challenges are addressed secondary education would be the best option for African countries to produce youthful graduates ready and skilled for the current labor market.