African Youths, an Asset for Their Countries

10 December 2019

The ECA Office for North Africa held on December 2nd a special event on "Skills and employment creation for youth: Lessons for North Africa".

The meeting took place on the margins of the 2019 African Economic Conference (AEC) jointly organised by ECA, UNDP and AfDB under the theme: "Jobs, Entrepreneurship and Capacity Development for African Youths", and was an opportunity to analyse the characteristics of youth employment in North Africa and the obstacles it faces in its countries.

Panel discussions at the event covered key issues such as skill development and job creation for youths, best practices and lessons learned on how to reform education sectors and increase their responsiveness to labour market dynamics. Participants also considered options for countries to generate more employment opportunities, especially for youth, such as fostering entrepreneurship.

Youth are potential assets that would contribute to sustainable development if their needs are prioritized, said Mojubaolu Okome, a Professor of Political Science, African and Women's Studies at the Brooklyn College. The last 20 years have witnessed an increase in school enrolment rates and a declining gender gap in education, she added.

According to Okome, key current challenges include gender disparity, the low correlation between economic growth and job opportunities and the fact that a significant number of jobs created are of low quality.

For his part, population and social development expert and advisor to the National Population Council of Sudan Hassan Yousif insisted on the need to fill existing knowledge gaps in the analyses of employment, labour markets, and economic and social policies related to youth welfare and aspirations. While much of the literature on youth employment calls for the creation of jobs and opportunities to absorb them in the labour market, little is actually known about the youths themselves, their demographics and their aspirations. More information should also be gathered on the impact of youth demographics on their social welfare, social protection, education, health as well as their skills and ability to meet labour market demands.

Former Tunisian Secretary of State for Youth and Sport and independent expert Fethi Touzri described for his part his country's experience, ongoing efforts to design an inter-sectorial youth strategy and youth programmes as well as the new start-up law, which facilitates the development of new enterprises and aims to help Tunisia become a digital hub.

Africa's youth population is growing rapidly and is expected to double to over 830 million by 2050. This increase in working-age population presents an opportunity to boost productivity and facilitate inclusive growth across the continent. However, much of this demographic dividend remains largely untapped. Although 10-12 million youths enter the workforce every year, only around 3 million formal jobs are created annually in Africa, one third of African youth aged 15-35 are unemployed and another one-third are vulnerably employed, mostly in the informal sector.

In North Africa, national unemployment rates have remained above 10% between 2015 and 2018, while youth and women are hit particularly hard with unemployment rates that are almost double and sometimes triple the national figures.

The African Economic Conference 2019 brought together youth representatives, researchers, policymakers, and development practitioners from Africa and around the world to discuss recent developments on issues of youth employment, skills and entrepreneurship in Africa.

The conference was also an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of ongoing reforms to address the youth skills gap in Africa and develop their entrepreneurial capacities, discuss emerging challenges on youth employment, skills and entrepreneurship in Africa to inform country strategies and identify evidence-based innovative and implementable policies.

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