Youth employment in Africa

There is no unique determinant of the youth employment challenge in the African region. Rather, a combination of factors contributes to compound a situation that has become a top political priority for the region.

In sub-Saharan Africa, unemployment rates remain relatively low, as the vast majority of employable active youth cannot afford not to work. However, these youth regularly suffer from under-employment and lack of decent working conditions. Of the 38.1 per cent estimated total working poor in sub-Saharan Africa, young people account for 23.5 per cent. Young girls tend to be more disadvantaged than young men in access to work and experience worse working conditions than their male counterpart, and employment in the informal economy or informal employment is the norm.

In North Africa, unemployment rates (among a generally more educated labour force) are quite high (23.8 per cent estimated in 2012, with a 3 percentage point increase between 2010 and 2011 and a steady increase since 2007) and projected to remain high over the next five years. Unemployment can arguably be considered to be at the root of the Arab Spring uprisings. At the same time, labour force participation rates for women are the second lowest in the world (33.4 per cent in 2012, right after the Middle East). Informality is less marked than in Sub Saharan Africa, but still persistent.

ILO’s cooperation on youth employment in Africa

ILO youth employment activities covered three main fields: technical assistance to tripartite constituents, advocacy and knowledge development and dissemination.

In terms of technical assistance to tripartite constituents on youth employment, support is mostly, although not exclusively, carried out through technical cooperation projects. Currently, the ILO is implementing youth-employment-specific technical cooperation projects in 27 countries across the African region. This portfolio has a budget of over US$ 80 million.

Areas of intervention are identified with constituents and vary but include, amongst other things, the following actions:
  • Policy advisory services. Such services cover a broad range of activities, from mainstreaming decent work into national and regional development strategies, to legislative advice on fundamental labour standards, to advice on specific topics of interest to the country (e.g. development of national action plans on youth employment or access to finance legislation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Senegal, Togo and Uganda);
  • Employment services, skills development and labour market training, notably focusing on technical and vocational education, apprenticeship schemes, and tailored services for job insertion of most disadvantaged youth (e.g. in Benin, Burkina Faso, Comoros, Egypt, Liberia, Zambia and Zimbabwe);
  • Employment creation, including enterprise and entrepreneurship development support, business development services and labour-based public works (e.g. in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda);
  • Other areas where interventions are carried out, often in conjunction with one of the above, include: data collection and assistance to national statistical offices, workers’ rights (e.g. in Lesotho), migration (e.g. in Mauritania and Senegal), fighting against worst forms of child labour), prevention or management of HIV/AIDS in the workplace (e.g. in Kenya and Malawi) and support to young people with disabilities (e.g. in Malawi).
Turning to advocacy for youth employment, the ILO launched a partnership with the African Development Bank, the African Union Commission and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) to jointly address youth employment at regional and country levels. Moreover, the ILO’s partnership with the World Bank and UN in the global Youth Employment Network has resulted in Africa-focused research and ad hoc projects (e.g. the Youth-to-Youth Fund).

The ILO is also active in advocating for youth employment creation, labour rights and employability through dedicated events. Eleven national youth employment events took place across the region between March and April 2012.

In terms of knowledge development and dissemination, the first “Decent Work indicators for Africa” report, which was published in 2012, contains some youth-specific indicators comparing the performance of countries for which data are available. Furthermore, the ILO is currently carrying out school-to-work transition surveys (SWTS) in nine African countries. Such surveys allow obtaining primary data that are only scarcely available. Regarding policies and programmes, the Region is developing a plan to contribute to the ILO’s worldwide database on policies for youth employment (YouthPOL).