As the world faces a frightening youth employment challenge, 20 million young Africans are expected to join the workforce every year over the next two decades. At the same time, advances in technology offer an opportunity to boost labour demand in the digital economy in Africa.
So, in helping to tackle the youth employment challenge, insiders at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) say there is need to create a sustainable pipeline of talent with the right, future-forward, skills.
At the same time, working with governments, employers’ and workers’ organisations should build an enabling environment to create jobs for youth.
Like many new graduates, some youths realised very quickly after leaving university that the types of jobs available to them were not as plentiful as those who had studied Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects.
A testifier at ILO said she learned the hard way how important it is to have the skills that employers are looking for.
It is not just the study choices of students that need adjusting. In Kenya for instance, most universities are yet to adapt their curriculums to meet the growing demand for Information and Communications Technology (ICT) skills.
Three years from now – the length of an average first degree course – Kenya expects to have 17,000 ICT graduates available. Yet, a report by Youth Impact Labs estimates that by 2022 employers will be looking for 95,000 ICT professionals. Somehow this gap will need to be plugged.
However, it is not just a Kenyan, or an African, problem. Worldwide, no less than 79 per cent of global CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills. Among African business leaders, this figure jumps to 87 per cent.
One other African youth was lucky. He found a good job that also fed his interest in employment and skills issues. After he began working at ThinkYoung (a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to involve youth in decision-making processes and provides decision-makers with high-quality research on key issues affecting young people), it did not take him long to understand how this skills gap affects more than profit and growth statistics for businesses and economies.
Perhaps, even worse damage is done to our irreplaceable human capital, because having the wrong skills is a major contributor to unemployment among school leavers and graduates.
If African leaders can correct this mis-match, the potential benefits are enormous.
There are many ways to fill this gap though. Self-learning, tech hubs, online courses and workshops can all contribute. In 2017, the ILO partnered with the International Telecommunications Union to launch the Digital Skills for Jobs Campaign under the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, with the aim of equipping five million young people with digital skills by 2030.
This includes mainstreaming digital skills into school curricula, establishing comprehensive on-the-job training systems, and encouraging private and public sector job creators to employ young people in digital-centric jobs. There will also be a strong focus on fostering youth-led digital entrepreneurship.
Not all is however, lost for non-STEM graduates! Retraining and upskilling programmes are available. Among the resources is the Decent Jobs for Youth Knowledge Facility, which collates experiences gathered from many different partners to facilitate learning related to the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of youth employment policies and programmes, including on digital skills and jobs.
Increasingly, non-STEM graduate are finding themselves advocating for more STEM education and training, particularly among schoolchildren. As it often said, one is never too young or too old to learn new things.