Minimizing the Skills Gap: The Key to Addressing Youth Unemployment in Africa

By Naomi Simiyu and Audrey Cheng

Much of the argument to alleviate youth unemployment in Africa has been focused on creating jobs through growing new businesses. Indeed, Africa needs to create 12 million jobs per year, while Kenya alone needs to create 1 million jobs in order to absorb its growing youth population. While the lack of jobs are of great concern, the other side of the problem is the current skills gap, which poses a large threat to youth unemployment. Even when jobs are created, there are not enough skilled workers to fill them. Having more skilled workers also means that businesses grow faster, which means that more jobs are created.

Nigerian billionaire Tony Elumelu has defined youth unemployment as “Africa’s greatest challenge for the next 30 years”. Given that 60% of the estimated 200 million youth in Africa are unemployed with the number expected to double by 2045, this statement is not an exaggeration.

But how much of this problem can be attributed to the jobs gap — the limited number of opportunities for work-seeking youths — versus the skills gap — the mismatch between skills of job seekers and job requirements or employer expectations?

In Kenya, 85,600 jobs were created in the formal job market in 2016, enough to comfortably absorb the estimated 50,000 university graduates that enter the job market annually. Yet graduates are reporting difficulty finding jobs — taking an average of 5 years to find a job — and employers are reporting difficulty filling open roles. In a Moringa School study of 32 employers in Kenya, 69% of employers perceived a mismatch between skills of entry level hires and job market needs. It seems that the skills gap is the greatest contributor to youth unemployment.

One: Lack of Access to Relevant Job Market Information

Current information on the skills gaps in Africa does not provide specific data on skills or the number of positions vacant. For example, project managers, consultants, application systems analysts and software developers were reported as the highest demanded professionals in the 2011–2013 survey on the IT sector in Kenya with an estimated 9600 jobs created between 2013–2016. According to the World Economic Forum, the ICT sector and STEM fields are predicted to be future drivers of African economies but little data is available on future anticipated positions or specific skills needed to fill them. This lack of reliable and specific data has made it difficult for employers and educators to address any new or emerging skills gaps.

Two: Mismatched Trainings and Outdated Curriculum

The majority of tertiary education institutions in Africa offer mismatched training and have an outdated curriculum misaligned with current or future needs of employers. According to Brookings, it will take 100 years for African countries to achieve the education level of developed countries. Unless education providers bridge the gap between the skill demands of employers and the skill needs of youth, youth will continue to be unemployable in the job market.

Three: Soft Skills Training Missing from Traditional Institutions

Employers are demanding a wider subset of skills — including soft skills — and educational institutions are not teaching them. This has become more apparent in the digital era. Universities and training programs often prioritize major-based education or technical training, leaving out soft skills training.

One: Demand-driven Training

Since current educational institutions in Africa do not engage with employers to ensure content relevance, demand-driven training is a necessity. One example is Moringa School, a world-class career accelerator that trains youth through a market-driven curriculum and currently has a 95% job placement rate among top employers. Moringa’s content is consistently updated from employer feedback and Moringa’s classrooms simulate real working environments, which creates a smooth transition from education to employment.

Another organization is Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator in South Africa, which partners with over 300 employers to connect youth locked out of the formal employment market with formal job opportunities.

Two: Improved Pedagogy

Outdated teaching methodologies, such as lecturing, which promotes rote learning and memorization, also inhibits the growth of youth employment. Skills training that is applicable in the workforce allows for better retention than memorization. Creating strong teacher training programs and promoting effective teaching methodologies, like blended learning — which combines online digital media with traditional classroom methods — are crucial to delivering higher-quality education. Blended learning allows for standardized content delivery, reducing the challenges of quality training and physical access. Organizations like Dignitas drive strong teacher training and African Leadership University drives blended learning, using data to consistently improve on their learning and teaching model.

Three: Engaging Relevant Stakeholders

Engaging stakeholders — employers, NGO’s, government, educational institutions — is crucial in reducing the skills gaps. Especially in education, building partnerships is important in driving larger systems change. Moringa School’s secondary school open-source curriculum project (SPOC) was built in partnership with Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development, UNESCO, Repl.it and numerous secondary schools, with the goal of providing students with early exposure and access to in-demand coding skills. Also, Moringa partners with organizations like Microsoft and Facebook to bring high-quality, relevant content to students across Africa, and also powers a Pakistani government youth employment initiative. Having the buy-in of different stakeholders is key to systems change in education.

According to the 2016–2017 global talent shortage survey, 40% of employers from 43 countries in the study reported difficulty filling open job positions. This is the highest since 2007. Because of the skills gap, a huge number of companies worldwide, like Ernst & Young, are looking for relevant skills and not a degree. Evidently, solutions to the skills gap problem need to ensure youth are gaining the skills that meets employers demands.

Youth unemployment is a nuanced and complex problem. In order for Africa to achieve the UN sustainable goal of reducing youth unemployment by 2020 and creating decent work for all by 2030, there needs to be increased investment in demand-driven training.


Originally published on www.huffingtonpost.com on October 16, 2017.

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