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The Struggle for Jobs is Real, Scary, and Pervasive

Africa's unemployed youth are in a state of distress. Here's how to help them.

A few weeks ago, an old friend sent me a distressed message:


“Any vacancies for someone with an MBA in Human Resource Management, BSc in Accounting, and certifications from the Institute of Strategic Management of Nigeria, National Institute of Management, and Association of Cost and Executive Accountants…who has experience in auditing from the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria?”


I was struck most by her ending note:


“With all these qualifications, he is currently working as a security guard because of unavailability of work.”


Indeed, the struggle for work is global. Jim Clifton, the chairman and C.E.O. of Gallup, pointed out in his 2011 book, The Coming Jobs War that “the primary will of the world is no longer about peace or freedom or even democracy; it is not about having a family, and it is neither about God nor about owning a home nor land. The will of the world is first and foremost to have a good job. Everything else comes after that.” Based on the most recent growth projections, global unemployment is expected to rise by nearly 2.3 million in 2016 and by a further 1.1 million in 2017. Emerging economies are expected to see an increase in unemployment of 2.4 million in 2016.

A large number of Africa’s youth are without the most important thing they need to thrive – jobs.

The African continent has the fastest growing and most youth population in the world. Over 40% of the Continent’s population is between the ages of 15 and 24. The Continent’s future will inevitably be shaped by our ability to productively channel and engage the large youth population. Designing a system that works requires a re-examination of existing attitudes and practices, which I have outlined below.


Real skills vs certifications

The push for certification is usually a good pursuit. However, the perception that more certifications leads to better employment chances does not hold true. Employers are looking for skilled people who will get the job done, not those who only show promise. In the future, an employable CV will look more like a university transcript which clearly spells out an individual’s performance in different modules over a period of time, rather than the traditional CV.


Who should be responsible for preparing young people for work?

The focus has always been on educational institutions, employers, and the government. While their roles are undisputed, there’s a critical need for ambitious individuals and startups to be innovative in disrupting the education-to-employment pathway. This possibility does not receive attention in the media and neither do projects actively focused on disrupting the space locally exist – only recently has an NGO, The F.A.I.T.H. Initiative created a unique program, LifePlan, to prepare young people for the world of work. In the long run, efforts need to stretch beyond short online courses, as the bulk of complaints are stem from a lack of measurable skills.


Prioritizing practical experience

In the 2015 WISE Education Survey: Connecting Education to the Real World, WISE experts identified the lack of connection between education and work (co-op programs, internships, mentoring, etc.) as the biggest challenge faced at the post-secondary/university level in their country relative to preparing students for success in employment.

Internships and work opportunities are still largely construed as privileges clinched with ‘long legs’ and ‘who knows who.’

To tackle this challenge means that young people need to start taking up internship slots, attending and actively participating in seminars and conferences, joining professional organizations and networks, launching independent projects, and working across multidisciplinary and multicultural teams. While there are people who engage in these activities, they are few and far between as a very large number of people graduate university without these critical experiences. Internships and work opportunities are still largely construed as privileges clinched with ‘long legs’ and ‘who knows who.’ Although this is true to a certain degree, it only further emphasizes why such platforms need to be developed in order to create equal opportunities based on merit and worthiness  for all.


Moreover, the acquisition of skills and experiences needs to be intentional. A young person who gets the chance to attend computer literacy classes in a nearby cyber café or joins an important organization like AIESEC or takes up roles in a parent’s business needs to be made aware of how the activity adds to their professional journey so they can intentionally seek out these experiences.


Africa’s youth need jobs and we cannot run away from the consequences of failing them.

Ifeoluwa Adedeji
Lagos, Nigeria – Ifeoluwa works in PR at Red Media Africa, where he engages governance communication, citizenship and enterprise advocacy, and public relations. An alum of the University of Ibadan and The Speech Academy, he is on Twitter @TheIfeAdedeji
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