Youth employment key to Africa's economic growth, social cohesion, UN report says

With youth population in Africa projected to double by 2045, the African Economic Outlook 2012 has challenged countries in the continent to take steps to boost job creation and help young people acquire new skills towards sustained economic growth and social cohesion.

The annual 2012 African Economic Outlook, which covers economic, social and political development in 53 of the continent’s 54 countries, says youth are an opportunity for future economic growth.

The report is published by the African Development Bank (ADB) in conjunction with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Development Centre, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

“Creating productive employment for Africa’s rapidly growing young population is an immense challenge, but also the key to future prosperity,” the authors noted in the foreword.

“Between 2000 and 2008, despite world-topping economic growth rates, and a better educated youth, Africa created only 16 million jobs for young people aged between 15 and 24.

“Today, youth represent 60 per cent of the continent’s unemployed, out of 40 million youths, 22 million have given up on finding a job, many of them women. The continent is experiencing jobless growth”, said Mthuli Ncube, Chief Economist and Vice-President of the African Development Bank (AfDB).

“That is an unacceptable reality on a continent with such an impressive pool of youth, talent and creativity”.

The report argues that youth unemployment figures would increase except Africa moves swiftly to make youth employment a priority and turn its human capital into economic opportunity. The report also pointed out that youths can present a significant threat to social cohesion and political stability if they do not secure decent living conditions.

“High growth alone is not sufficient to guarantee productive employment,” the report noted.

“Youth employment is largely a problem of quality in low-income countries and one of quantity in middle-income countries.

In low-income countries, most young people work, but are poor nevertheless,” Mario Pezzini, Director at the OECD Development Centre said. According to the report, “In African middle-income countries, on the other hand, such as South Africa or the Northern African countries, despite better education, more youth are inactive than working.”

The report recommends that African countries design better coordinated strategies to effectively tackle youth employment and focus on job creation in the private sector. It also recommends that African countries provide the right conditions for businesses of all sizes to grow and expand their work force.

In addition, given the small size of the formal sector in many African countries, the report suggests that government focuses on the informal sector and rural areas, which contain immense entrepreneurial talent and can serve as engines for inclusive growth since they can absorb higher numbers of unemployed youths.

It also advocates for policies focused on creating the skills that are necessary for youths to compete in the job market, such as improving the quality of education in agriculture and new technologies.

The African Economic Outlook 2012 holds that increased policy focus on youth employment must be coupled with measures to boost investments in social and economic infrastructure and diversify the continent’s economy.

The Director of Economic Development at UNECA, Emmanuel Nnadozie, said export diversification beyond raw material and private sector development are important to mitigate the continent’s susceptibility to external shocks. He said that although it takes time, with the right policies in place, the continent could capitalize on its recent economic growth to achieve a development breakthrough.

“Youth employment is an investment in the future. It contributes to reducing poverty, wealth creation, well-being and social cohesion,” said

Chief Economist at UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa, Pedro Conceição, said.

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