25 January 2022 gold-youth looks at the evidence: there’s a missing-jobs crisis in Africa

Insights on Unemployment from the Africa Growth Initiative

With almost 60% of Africa’s population under the age of 35, it is not surprising that policy makers tend to address unemployment on the continent as a youth issue. However, in September 2020, the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) released a report that frames the unemployment crisis as an issue for Africans of all ages. According to the AGI, there is a missing-jobs crisis, caused by fundamental structural problems in African economies that provide far too few opportunities for decent work.

The AGI report collates the findings of significant studies that challenge the narrative of young people in Sub-Saharan Africa as idle, easily drawn into crime and violence, unable to get the jobs that are available because they lack technical and soft skills and therefore need training. It also debunks the idea that all African youth are budding entrepreneurs who resist getting involved in agriculture.

gold-youth welcomes these findings, as the AGI report builds on our experience and correlates well with our existing strategies. While our interventions focus on youth, we have long understood the value of including wider community stakeholders, and implementing sustainably, stretching beyond the adolescent-only scope to embrace partners who share our vision of a transformed, inclusive and equitable future for our continent.

We believe that raising up a generation of hope-filled, ethical leaders who possess the inherent tools to unlock their own African solutions is key. Therefore, in studying the AGI report, we are not surprised that the supposed causal link between unemployed youth and violence fails to stand up to scrutiny, and that the majority of young people remain peaceful when faced with economic adversity, even when living in a context where armed violence exists.

Furthermore, we note with interest that the AGI report exposes some of the myths about the links between education and employment. It shows that the youth most likely to be unemployed in low- and lower-middle-income countries are the most educated. While more education generally correlates with higher earnings, the relationship is not automatic—there must be jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities into which better skilled young people can step. The AGI studies stress that jobs do not exist today for many of Africa’s educated youth. Furthermore, a skills-matching survey conducted in Ghana and Uganda showed that 40% of employed people in Ghana and 25% in Uganda do not use their skills in their jobs, and that digital skills are least used. Moreover, 30% of African youth with at least a secondary education are over-skilled for their jobs, pointing to the potentially limited absorptive capacity of African labour markets.

The AGI report’s sobering findings indicate a misconception around the capacity for skills training to result in employment, especially where only narrow vocational training is offered. Non-sector-specific, transferable skills appear to be far more beneficial. These include literacy, numeracy, problem solving, communication and negotiation. There is a dire need for programmes that nurture confidence, build socio-emotional skills and active citizenship, and help youth to find mentors. To this end, the gold Programme heavily invests in self-development and expansion of personal agency. We adopt a rights-based approach that builds communication skills, civic appreciation and educational outcomes. We garner employability by preparing young people for the labour market in a way that is holistic and supportive. When it comes to entrepreneurship, we carefully select those youth who show aptitude, and offer opportunities for networking and enrichment. We firmly believe that it is an error to push all young people at the bottom of the pyramid towards entrepreneurship. Therefore, we note with interest that the report quotes an OECD study showing that only a tiny portion of youth entrepreneurs’ businesses are successful and they primarily operate at a subsistence level that does not create new jobs for others.

Lastly, we find the findings on agriculture illuminating: AGI shows that many young people in rural areas find ways to combine activities on farms and off farms. Although not repelled by the idea of agriculture, they see themselves more as farm managers than labourers. They do not tend to adopt more innovative farm techniques than older farmers, and have been comparatively slow to integrate technology into agriculture. While food security remains an issue of dire concern in Africa, we encourage youth in the gold Programme to explore opportunities offered in agro-entrepreneurship and the food industry, and to look for inventive farm-to-fork solutions.

In conclusion, the AGI insights indicate “the so-called youth employment problem cannot be solved in isolation from the major economic challenges that countries face today. AGI believes that the focus on youth-targeted interventions actually distracts policy makers and stakeholders from developing the policy agenda for structural change; only a wider set of policy options that give priority to tackling broader structural issues has the potential to deliver much bigger results, for people of all ages”.

To this end, gold-youth adopts a systems change approach. We challenge existing economic and social structures, and seek to address wider issues of inequality within the system of youth education and upbringing.

While the AGI report offers some comfort that we are still on the right track, it also spurs us on to urgency.

Read the full report here:


The Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) at Brookings conducts high-quality, independent research, which helps establish long-term strategies for economic growth and strong policies for development in Africa. www.brookings.edu/africagrowth

Written by Renette Pickering