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Opinion - How can Africa and Namibia stop youth unemployment?

2021-11-09  Staff Reporter

Opinion - How can Africa and Namibia stop youth unemployment?
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The Skills Initiative for Africa (SIFA), together with its partners (African Union Commission (AUC), the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD), held the Continental Africa Creates Jobs (ACJ) virtual conference on 3-4 November 2021. The theme of the continental dialogue was ‘Driving a responsive and agile skills and jobs agenda for economic growth for African Youth’.

The conference brought together key stakeholders from the government, the private and public sectors and other social partners. More than 100 stakeholders from the business community, higher education, TVET and secondary schools, civil society, youth organisations and policymakers attended the online discussion. The conference discussed findings of a series of Macro-Economic Studies and Rapid Skills Assessments conducted several months before the conference across the African continent. In this article, I share workshop discussions and recommendations regarding how Africa and Namibia can drive responsive and agile skills and jobs agenda for economic growth for African youth. 

The workshop began by reminding participants that about 65% of Africa’s 1.2 billion people are under 35 years. With an increase of about half a million more 15-year-old each year before between 2015 and 2035, Africa’s youth population (15-35) is estimated to reach 540 million by 2030. This means that Africa is the only continent in the world whose working-age population is estimated to rapidly expand beyond 2035. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 takes this growing youthful population as both an opportunity and threat to the continent’s vision of a peaceful, integrated and prosperous Africa. 

The conference, however, observed that despite Africa’s colonial history of poor educational outcomes, six decades after its political independence, the continent continues to suffer from similar old educational weaknesses. ‘Why?’, conference participants wanted to know. Various discussants suggested that something was wrong with African education systems, which governments have for decades deliberately flouted. 

Conference participants, therefore, observed that for Africa to minimise youth unemployment across the continent, governments will have to undertake an integrated skills revolution by addressing the following issues: 

Credentials vs skills:Governments leaders should ask themselves, what are degrees worth of if university graduates cannot find jobs or add value to their lives? What is the value of a university certificate which leaves the holders vulnerable to all sorts of socio-economic shocks? How do governments measure the return on taxpayers’ money invested in education that produces jobless graduates? 

Use data to inform funding decisions: If TVET is a catalyst for socio-economic development, policymakers should follow data to make educational funding decisions. For example, earnings data across the world show which institutions, disciplines and specific academic programmes will likely provide students with the best chances of earning money. Such studies should inspire some standard objections that (a) a college TVET certificate isn’t simply about a return on investment, and (b) a focus on earnings reinforces the perception that university education is merely about individual benefits.

Advocate for TVET to be the first career of choice:The reputation of TVET is low across the continent and at country level. The question is what is the leadership at micro, meso and macro levels doing to improve the tainted image of TVET? The use of TVET for political gain is certainly inadvisable. Governments should rather be the generator, creator and leader of TVET initiatives. Policymakers should refuse the status quo and instead implement marketing programmes to improve the image and reputation of TVET.

Include women and minority in TVET:Women and minority groups across Africa occupy disproportionately low-wage occupations. Also, in most African countries, the two groups run the informal sector. One wonder why they are not involved in high-social-value positions associated with high paying occupations. TVET will only drive jobs for all if governments will develop policies integrate women and marginalised communities in their skills development frameworks. 

Conduct research on macro-economic outlook of the country: The key to introduce a skills revolution is for African governments to conduct rapid, time series and longitudinal studies of the supply and demand of their labour force. It is through such studies that TVET stakeholders will understand and forecast the skills for the future. 

Promote TVET lecturers’ internships programmes: Most TVET instructors were trained decades ago on what might be regarded outdated technologies today. Thus, with new technologies developed and introduced on the labour market, TVET instructors should be provided upskilling and re-skilling opportunities to acquire the latest industry skills in their occupations, so they become effective educators of their students. There are concerns that currently many TVET lecturers are not exposed to the latest start-of-the-art equipment in the industry, compromising the quality of teaching and learning across different training programmes.

Re-imagine a skills revolution: If TVET can drive African countries’ jobs agenda, individual government leaderships across the continent should pose and ask the following questions: Are training providers offering relevant skills aligned to the development profiles of the youth? Do we as a country have a skills development framework? Asking these and similar questions, is the only way individual African countries will develop a responsive skills framework that will meet the skills demands of the labour market.

Leadership should promote partnerships:First, no one sector should monopolise knowledge over youth skills development programmes. By virtue of the status in society, policymakers should exercise the leadership role of all socio-economic sectors to promote the spirit of partnerships in and across countries within the NEPAD framework. 

Within the skills revolution process, partnerships will help stakeholders to learn and exchange best practices, expertise and resources, which together will ensure that no training is conducted for its own sake.  Overall, youth participants in the conference argued African governments urgently transform and align their education systems to the needs of their respective economies. Africa and Namibia can stop youth unemployment, but only when policymakers pass a legislative and policy framework that acknowledges TVET as the first career of choice for school leavers. 


2021-11-09  Staff Reporter

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