- As of 2022, around 40 per cent of the African population was 15 years and younger, higher than the global average of 25 per cent. Moreover, 70 per cent of Africans are below 30 years.
- The youth in Africa face roughly double the unemployment rate of adults, with significant variation by country.
- Africa’s young people are getting the short end of the stick in a job market skewed towards senior jobs requiring experience.
Africa has the youngest population globally. As of 2022, around 40 per cent of the African population was 15 years and younger, higher than the global average of 25 per cent. Moreover, 70 per cent of Africans are below 30 years. Although the median age on the continent grows annually, it remains at around 20 years.
A young population offers significant potential and opportunities for economic growth and innovation. But these opportunities need recognition and utilisation. Involving young people in politics and society is a matter of inclusion and is vital for economic growth, innovation, security, and peace.
Young people across Africa contribute to the betterment of their communities and nations. From offering support to the elderly to advocating equality and justice, Africa’s youth have proven their role in building and sustaining healthy communities.
Outside of Africa, nations with ageing populations face high healthcare costs and a shortage of skilled labour. In contrast, young African people face underemployment, unemployment, and limited opportunities.
As Sub-Saharan Africa’s workforce becomes more prominent and better educated, there is an overwhelming potential for economic growth and development. However, youth unemployment in Africa remains a barrier to the region’s development.
Youth unemployment in Africa is a recurring theme.
According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the youth population will surpass 830 million by 2050. The reality is that of Africa’s population of nearly 420 million aged 15 to 35 years; one-third are unemployed. Another third faces job insecurity, and only one in six is in wage employment.
The youth in Africa face roughly double the unemployment rate of adults, with significant variation by country. Notably, the problem is unemployment and underemployment, peaking at just over half of the youth in the labour force. Between 10 million and 12 million youth enter the workforce annually, but only 3.1 million jobs are available.
With limited jobs available, Africa’s youth settle for less-than-ideal employment. They end up in low-paying, temporary, and unsafe jobs, or ones for which they are overqualified. Some youths enter the informal economy just to put food on the table. Others give up looking for jobs altogether to try their luck in entrepreneurship.
Africa needs 21 million jobs annually to absorb new entrants in the labour market. But only 3 million formal jobs are created in the continent. Data from the International Labour Organization (ILO), youth unemployment in Nigeria stood at nearly 20 per cent of the labour force in the 15-to-24-year age group in 2021. By this same measure, Kenya fared better at close to 14 per cent, but South Africa was worse off by some distance at 64.2 per cent.
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A ticking time bomb
Ultimately, Africa’s young people are getting the short end of the stick in a job market skewed towards senior jobs requiring experience.
This represents an undesirable reality on a continent with such an impressive pool of youth, talent, and creativity. Youth unemployment in Africa is a ticking time bomb that appears perilously close to exploding.
If not urgently addressed, youth unemployment in Africa can potentially have severe and significant social impacts, including social exclusion and unrest. Moreover, unemployed youth can quickly become a soft target for negative energy.
Previously, violent extremist groups such as the Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram have targeted unemployed youths to further their agenda.
Addressing the three pressing needs of the youth – education, engagement, and livelihoods – has become a central tenet of global and continental policy discussions over the past decade. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) consider the youth as essential partners for achieving inclusive and peaceful societies.
Africans of all ages seem to understand that if the youth are suffering and unable to establish productive livelihoods, it becomes a societal problem. As such, many agree that there is a need for intervention from the government and other stakeholders in addressing the challenge of youth unemployment in Africa.
While younger Africans have made substantial gains in educational achievement, they still face considerable gaps in paid employment, making job creation the most critical issue on the youth agenda.
Addressing youth unemployment in Africa
An abundance of young entrepreneurs will be essential to unleashing the cyclone of job creation the continent desperately needs to evade potential humanitarian catastrophe.
There is a need to establish and strengthen entrepreneurship education in schools and tertiary institutions to foster the development of an entrepreneurial culture among the youth to facilitate self-employment.
A skills requirements audit within the economies should be carried out so that education and training respond to industry needs and address youth unemployment in Africa. A good example is polytechnics which are still lagging in terms of technology. As such, they are churning out underskilled students. The recent decline in African economies has not helped the situation. It has led to the unavailability of government resources to upgrade educational infrastructure.
There are support structures that promote youth entrepreneurship in Africa. Still, there is a need to assess the extent to which their contribution can lead to sustainable entrepreneurship. This form of entrepreneurship creates jobs for the active population.
Governments and policymakers should also facilitate the formalisation of the informal employment sector. This will motivate more youth to engage in different activities currently considered to be informal. Moreover, it will help reduce the unemployment problem, especially for skilled and educated youth in urban and rural areas.
Africa has predominantly agri-based economies. Thus, Africa’s agricultural sector holds significant potential for addressing youth unemployment. Countries must promote rural and structural transformation. This consolidates farm and non-farm activities and reinforces the linkages between rural and urban areas.