For Africa's Youth, Jobs are Job One

Editor's Note: This chapter is part of the 2013 Foresight Africa full report, which details the top priorities for Africa in the coming year. Read the full report here.

Highlights

  • The ratio of youth to adult unemployment in sub-Saharan Africa is 1.9 compared to 2.7 worldwide.  Africa’s low youth unemployment rate is not because Africa is doing well at generating jobs for the young.  It is because African countries with low unemployment tend to have large informal sectors.
  • For a great majority of African young people, the youth unemployment problem is more about the quality of the job than the absence of a job.
  • To create more good jobs Africa needs more industry.  While manufacturing is the industrial sector most closely associated with employment intensive growth, there are also “industries without smokestacks” in agriculture and services that can cre­ate good jobs.

On the surface, labor market statistics in Africa show that overall unemployment levels for the region are hovering just above the global average while Africa’s youth unemployment levels look better than the rest of the world.  However, these numbers don’t reflect the fact that young Africans are more likely to work in the informal sector and not in places that pay good wages, de­velop skills or provide a measure of job security.  Thus, Africa’s youth unemployment challenges encompass more than just a lack of jobs for African youth, but also a shortage of good quality jobs. 

As the midpoint of the African Union’s “Youth Decade Plan of Action” approaches, John Page examines some the key labor market challenges for the region and argues that a new Action Plan—one that combines efforts to improve the employment pros­pects for young people with a strategy for job creation—is needed.  Page calls for reforms in both short- and medium-term employment policies, growth in agriculture and other industries, as well as increased tech­nical and vocational training in order to address Africa’s increasing youth unemployment in 2013.