Promoting Youth Employment in Africa

As successive editions of the African Economic Outlook have shown, Africa’s rate of growth has outperformed the global rate over the last decade. Yet high growth is not sufficient to guarantee productive employment for all. Large sections of the population, and particularly the young, can be left behind and become frustrated. In the absence of a political process allowing them to express their views and produce policy changes, instability can result, as it did last year in a number of North African countries. This is an opportune time to reset the policy agenda of African governments towards an inclusive, employment-creating and sustainable growth strategy, aimed particularly at addressing the special needs of the young.

Africa has the world’s youngest population and it is growing rapidly. Hundreds of millions of young Africans will be leaving school over the next decades, at every level, and looking for jobs. The challenges and obstacles unemployed youth and the working poor face are diverse and vary between countries. Youth employment is largely a problem of quality in low-income countries and one of quantity in middle-income countries. Youth in vulnerable employment and working poverty are the large majority in poor countries. In upper middle-income countries more youth are unemployed, discouraged or inactive. In all country groups more young people are discouraged than unemployed, suggesting that the youth employment challenge has been underestimated.

Some conclusions are evident. The public sector will not be able to absorb the tide of young job seekers because there is little prospect of an expansion in this area. The private formal sector is growing but from too small of a base. Existing firms in this sector, the primary source of jobs paying a living wage, must be supported to grow further and become more competitive. Most importantly, attention must be concentrated on the informal and rural sectors because these will overwhelmingly be the source of new employment. Governments must focus on removing obstacles to the many small informal firms, helping them to grow and create decent jobs.

Get teh 2012 African Economic Outlook on Youth Employment at