Posted by: Djam Bakhshandegi
CSI Program Manager at Microsoft in Africa
Finding a job is still a daily struggle for millions of young people. Although the prospects for economic growth in Africa are good, increasing youth unemployment is limiting vital areas of that growth. Governments and industries must keep pace with supplying the opportunities to harness its potential, or face a problematic future.
With almost 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 in Africa today, the youth community represents more than 60 per cent of the continent’s total population and accounts for 45 per cent of its growing labour force. Experts predict that Africa’s labour force will be larger than China’s by 2035.
So there is a real opportunity here to make young people the drivers of prosperity and growth for an entire region. Yet the International Labour Organisation statistics show that youth unemployment in Africa actually increases as education levels increase. It is a sad truth that young Africans are more literate than their parents, and yet more of them are unemployed. We must start from the ground up to ensure that the young labour force has the capacity to take on this important role in our future. And as such, our efforts must be focused on the core foundation of providing high quality education.
Evidence suggests that secondary school achievement has regressed in some African countries, yet overall literacy is growing and Africa spends more on secondary education than the global average.
So what are we missing? What is the recipe to shift this trend, improve education and make a positive impact on youth employment prospects in Africa? The answer must surely be identifying the right kind of skills that African youth need to succeed in today’s knowledge economy, and then boosting access to these skills.
Mindful that youth is the cornerstone of economic growth and competitiveness, policymakers in the Africa and the Middle East have been undertaking a series of actions and decisions aimed at increasing assistance and opportunities for youth. But this not solely an undertaking for governments. The private sector also has a duty to curb the youth unemployment epidemic, and as a leader in the ICT sector, Microsoft role is particularly critical. As technology becomes more ingrained in industries from manufacturing to healthcare and agriculture, ICT skills are high-priority 21st-century skills for employers. Is this shift evident to youth and is it a reality across educational and professional development courses? We have a clear responsibility to communicate these advancements through open dialogue with education providers, and state the skills they expect future employees to possess.
Microsoft has recently introduced the YouthSpark initiative, a new company-wide, global program with the goal to address the opportunity divide – the gap between those who have the skills, access and opportunities to be successful and those who do not – facing young people. Through this initiative, Microsoft is creating opportunities for Africa’s youth through partnerships with governments, non-profit organisations and businesses alike. We are pledging to
serve youths by providing them with the enhanced technology and business training necessary to help them pursue additional education, obtain employment or start a new business or social venture.
As a case in point, through YouthSpark, in sub-Saharan Africa alone, we have already reached over half a million young people and made $1.1 million worth of software donations to non-Government-organisations. In addition we have trained almost 30, 000 teachers through our Partners In Learning tools as well as equipping hundreds of small & medium businesses with relevant start up skills.
I am glad that that specific mechanisms are being put in place across the region to foster skills and employability and fight youth unemployment. As policymakers, local businesses, international organisations and non-profits, it is vital that we are not just in the same boat, but that we are all rowing in the same direction. Avoiding the issue any longer is a mistake - young people have the potential, skills and enthusiasm to drive Africa forward and we should give them the best chance to succeed.