There are no easy solutions to the problem of youth unemployment.
Youth employment has to be part of the growth strategy of every African country.
Employment policies need to favor investment in education and training.
Washington, April 26, 2009 – A panel of experts on youth and employment from Ghana, Kenya, Mali, and Colombia met on Saturday, during the annual Spring Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, to discuss ways to alleviate the growing problem of youth unemployment in Africa.
The high-level panel, chaired by Africa Region Vice President Obiageli Ezekwesili and moderated by Human Development Sector Director Yaw Ansu, agreed that there are no easy solutions to the problem.
“Youth in urban areas are looking for jobs alongside thousands of others from the same schools, while rural youth are flooding into the cities looking for work,” said Sanoussi Toure, the Minister of Finance of Mali. “This is a tragedy. Our policies favor investment in education and training, but this investment has not led to job creation.”
Kinuthia Murugu, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Youth and Sports in Kenya, concurred that economic growth does not equal job creation, “which is why we need specific targeted interventions.” He noted that Kenya has created a Youth Employment Marshall Plan, which aims to create 500,000 new jobs over the next four years by expanding the number of technical training institutes and subsidizing students, supporting entrepreneurs in rural areas, initiating labor-intensive public works, developing the information and communication technology (ICT) sector, and paying young people to plant trees, through a Trees for Jobs program, to help reverse the effects of deforestation.
In Ghana, the Government has taken a sectoral approach to the problem, said Professor William Ahadzie, Deputy Head of the Centre for Social Policy Studies at the University of Ghana. “We’ve developed a National Youth Employment Program that aims to actively engage youth in productive employment where they are needed – as health extension workers, waste and sanitation workers, teachers, and as paid interns in industry.”
The panelist from Colombia, Mauricio Cárdenas, former Minister of Transport and also of Economic Planning, spoke about his efforts to address youth unemployment during Colombia’s economic crisis in the late 1990s, when external shocks drove unemployment from 10 to 20 percent, and youth unemployment to 30 percent. “We tried two different programs,” Mr. Cárdenas said, “and then evaluated the results.” One program, called Youth in Action, trained young people for the labor market. “We provided three months of classroom training, followed by three months of on-the-job training. We also provided them with income support of $3 per day, which corresponds to the poverty line in Colombia.” Under this program, “80,000 young people were trained, and the evaluations were highly favorable, using different techniques to measure impact.”
The other program in Colombia focused on employment generation through small-scale communal works in urban neighborhoods. This program was less successful. “We depended on local NGOs to implement the program and secure co-financing from municipalities, but they did not have the capacity to do so.” Another reason for the program’s failure, Mr. Cárdenas said, was that “it required that the individuals be paid minimum wage, and this restricted job creation.” Based on these experiences, Mr. Cárdenas concluded that “the best strategy for tackling youth unemployment is associated with labor training that takes into account their need for income during training.” In addition, “you also have to have a supply of training programs. Our approach encouraged the creation of these programs by the private sector.”
During the discussion period, Mr. Murugu said that the private sector can be encouraged to create more jobs through contracts for public works, and noted that in Kenya, public works contracts require that the companies use a certain percentage of the contract for labor. In response, Mr. Cárdenas cautioned against the tendency to see infrastructure projects as the answer to the urgent problem of youth unemployment. “Infrastructure projects require a lot of bureaucratic work and take a long time to be implemented. Social interventions are much more effective, you can train and educate the youth, and then create incentives for firms to hire them.”
“After training, then what?” asked Murugu of Kenya. “In Kenya we spend 150 billion shillings on primary education, but how can youth make the transition to being employed when there are no jobs?” He emphasized the importance of improving the environment for the informal sector by requiring local authorities to sign job creation performance contracts. He also said that it is critical to support youth in agriculture, since most farmers in Kenya are more than 60 years old. “Our Trees for Jobs program is meant for rural areas,” he said. “Youth work with the forestry service, learn skills, and help preserve the economic foundation of our country.”
Professor Ahadzie of Ghana agreed with the need to support job creation in agriculture, but noted the need to link agriculture with non-farm activities such as processing, the creation of markets, and the need for credit.
The Director of the National Planning Commission of Nigeria, Ayodele Omotoso, in Nigeria, who was in the audience, said that “youth unemployment in Nigeria is 60 to 70 percent, and the labor market can only absorb 10 percent of new job entrants. We used to think that the public sector had to provide jobs. Now we are looking at things holistically. We have established a social protection program, with cash transfers to the unemployed. We are also reforming the education sector. We’re also looking at ways to increase youth employment in all sectors. In the agriculture sector, we’re looking at commercial agriculture, and also at land reforms. We’re looking at manufacturing, although that sector is constrained by inadequate infrastructure. We’re also looking to increase youth employment in tourism, ICT, transport, and utilities. The key lesson is that youth unemployment is a multi-dimensional problem that needs to be addressed on a macro basis.”
In her concluding remarks, Regional Vice President Ezekwesili said that it was clear that youth unemployment needs to be addressed from many entry points. “The profile of unemployed youth has to enter the way we think, just as gender has. Youth need to be effectively targeted in everything we do, so that they will have a stake in the future.”