How can Africa achieve inclusive investment opportunities for its youth?

With half of the continent’s population under the age of 25, Africa no doubt holds the world’s largest reserve of young people.

It is estimated by the World Bank that by 2030, the continent’s working age population is set to increase by two-thirds, from 370 million adults in 2010 to over 600 million in 2030.

Sub-Saharan Africa is already home to 13% of the world’s working-age population, a number set to increase to more than 17% by 2030, the world’s second largest after Asia. Therefore, it is accurate to conclude that the youth constitute the largest part of Africa’s population.

Over this period, the region is projected to expand the size of its workforce by more than the rest of the world combined, as its young population, the best educated and globally connected the continent has ever had, enters the world of work.

However, it is unfortunate that Africa’s youth are the most disadvantaged when it comes to employment and inclusive investment opportunities. As such, there’s need to establish and come up with lasting solutions to curb down the unemployment rates in Africa.

Policy makers have warned that a bulging youth demographic without opportunity can lead to political instability or even further conflict. This is mainly due to the fact that large numbers of these youth throng urban centres under the impression that these areas will present better investment opportunities and a chance at a better life. However, this is often not the case with many ending up in self – employment, urban street hawking or other informal jobs with less social security.

This limited availability of employment opportunities to the youth means that they will face challenges finding formal employment, and a pathway out of poverty. Many times, the lack of employment for the youth has been attributed to the fact that many of them lack the skills necessary to enter the work force and match the needs of potential employers. This has been blamed on the different education systems that are more theoretical than they are practical.

According to Mr. Katana Benjamin, a co-founder of Leadership Square Africa, an organization focusing on building a youthful generation of transformative leaders across Africa, the education system is largely about grades and there is no emphasis on skilling which would be a catalyst for innovation.

Thus, the youth have the knowledge but lack skills to handle and maintain tasks assigned by employers. It should therefore be the priority of the governments to build on efforts to address skill gaps, investment constraints faced by the private sector, and, above all, prioritize industrialization so as to create more employment opportunities to cater for the growing youth population.

One of the measures that should be emphasized is encouraging hands-on training through Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) systems which prepare youth for real career opportunities.

According to President Yoweri Museveni, education is not enough. “If it creates people who only want white collar jobs with no skills to enable them produce goods and services, it will only swell the number of the unemployed,” Mr Museveni has been quoted as saying. 

One of the major interventions undertaken by the government of Uganda for example is employing measures to equip the youth with skills relating to business, technical, vocational education and training (BTVET). This is being done by focusing on a phased curriculum review at all levels of education from just being theoretical to a more practical approach since 1997. At the tertiary level for example, mandatory internships and courses that teach skills that are sought after by employers have been introduced.

However, there is still some difficulty in implementing these interventions as there is still a lack of infrastructure for undertaking practical lessons and institutions are largely privately owned with insufficient government funding. There is also a poor attitude towards vocational education leading to low enrollment rates.

Mr. Robert Mugambwa, a National Trainerat UwezoUganda-TwawezaEast Africa, says what has curtailed the youth more is not the education system, it is the socio-economic environment that has not given them enablers. He also argues that even the available employment opportunities don’t size up to how many graduates universities churn out or how many people have been educated and equipped with skills in Uganda.

Another major intervention that may be employed by nation states is financial inclusion which in turn creates jobs for the youth. At times, the only barrier to successful youth is access to investment capital to start up projects to benefit them.

The benefits of financial inclusion go beyond the entrepreneur and small business owners accessing the finance. When the youth with innovative ideas and entrepreneurial skills access financial services, they have the resources to grow, expand, and create job opportunities for others in the community.

Mr. Katana however says that there are some barriers to access of these financial services. For example, most times, collateral security is required to receive funding from different institutions which most youth do not have. “Some of these government programs are not well established hence few individuals know about the programs which should benefit them” he says. This, he adds, is why there are very few success stories of people who have benefited from these initiatives.

Also, providing for and enabling an environment for private sector investment to create jobs is another way of achieving inclusive investment opportunities for the youth. Africa’s SME sector is already one of the largest employers in Africa. This may be done through support of enterprise development for inclusive growth.

According to the World Bank, formal small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) contribute up to 60% of total employment and up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies. Thus, recognizing and supporting SMEs may be considered a viable source of employment for the youth through micro-finance giving them a chance to engage in investment opportunities and self-employment rather than job seeking.

However, financial inclusion should be approached comprehensively beyond just credit provision but should also be accompanied with entrepreneurship training, business development services, infrastructure development among others to achieve tangible, sustainable results. Information and counselling on access to finance should be provided as well as improving the regulatory framework for start-up finance.

It is also important to strengthen youth empowerment through increased support for direct participation in policy making. This should be done by increasing youth representation in domestic and policy processes, and promoting the importance of giving young people a decision-making role. This will in turn allow young people to address the specific challenges they face, share their ideas, and enhance their social and political capital at both local and national levels.

African governments also need to support initiatives and institutions that allow young people to exchange ideas and share experiences. By doing this, the youth can learn from and interact with their peers as well as those who are already successful thus advancing their knowledge and skill set leading to better results. This also includes the improvement of access to basic infrastructure services and ICT to promote innovation.

Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto has said in the past that there is urgent need for all African countries to improve their education systems so that they address skill needs. “This vision 2030 can easily become vision 3020 unless we improve our education to increase competencies and skills among young people. Young people should leave school when they are job ready in order to be employees or employers,” Mr Ruto is quoted.

As such, urgent attention clearly needs to be given to the African youth in terms of enabling inclusive investment opportunities.

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