Improving accessibility for young people in the African job market

POSTED Oct 10, 2019 BY Jane Watson

We have written about the population growth in Africa, and it's opportunities and challenges, before. This time our guest blogger Jane Watson dives deeper into the accessibility for the growing amount of young people in the African job market.

Around 30 million young Africans are entering the labour market each year, as such, ensuring that young people have access to jobs is now top of the agenda for many national governments. This is a particular challenge for young Africans given that Africa has the highest population of young people in the world. This article will look at what the potential barriers are for young African’s accessing work and how accessibility can be improved.

Boosting youth employment in Africa is a high priority

In July of last year, practitioners and policy makers from across the globe gathered in South Africa for an event organised by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) researchers aimed at improving accessibility to youth employment in sub-Saharan Africa. This was an important issue to address given that almost 20 years of a stable economy with relative prosperity has had little impact on unemployment in Africa.

Young people in Africa less likely to be employed than older adults

Young people across all African countries are more likely to be unemployed than older adults. This doesn’t mean that young Africans lack the education or skills that make them employable, nor is the issue necessarily youth specific, the issue is that young African’s are facing exceedingly challenging job markets.

The ‘less obvious’ barriers are significant

In an effort to try and ascertain what kinds of barriers have been affecting younger Africans from finding employment, research has found that beyond speculation that it could be a problem with infrastructure, business environments or a lack of education, for which evidence is comparatively weak, the problems actually lie in barriers that are much less obvious than these ones. 

The effects of gender and ages biases

One such barrier is to do with constraining social expectations faced by young Africans. This is particularly true of young African women, for whom job opportunities are unfortunately being limited by gender norms and expectations. This is combined with limited expectations of the types of work that young people can do. 

There is an assumption that young people can only successfully work in limited sectors and therefore a lack of recognition that young people can in fact work in a wider range of different sectors than many societies might think. Biases also exist from prospective employees against younger applicants. 

Politics and patronage systems are working against young people

Another barrier that has been identified is a social networking issue. In short, young people are less likely to have the right contacts. When there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs available, having a more established network of the right contacts becomes increasingly important. This puts younger people at a disadvantage, as the ‘who you know’ aspect of finding a job is more important in this kind of competitive job environment. 

More research needs to be done to come up with better-targeted solutions

In order to start addressing and improving youth unemployment in Africa, more research needs to be undertaken so that it is clearer as to what the exact causes of youth employment are, as separate from broader more systemic or structural problems. 

As it stands, there are important evidence gaps that need to be plugged when it comes to understanding exactly how different youth related issues are affecting unemployment. This involves looking at a broader range of categories such as urban graduates, rural school leavers, growth-oriented entrepreneurs, gender differences and the effects of socio-economic backgrounds. Once there is more evidence available, it will then be possible to develop better-targeted solutions.


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