Lee-Roy Chetty
Lee-Roy Chetty

Youth employment, training outlook bleak

Sub-Saharan African countries show high rates of informal employment reaching up to 95%, while existing and interacting with relative weak economic development in the region. In addition, youths find difficulties entering into formal employment.

Yet, unemployment rates and youth unemployment are only one indicator of the vulnerable position of young people in these labour markets which is aggravated by a lack of education and training.

In many sub-Saharan countries, school attendance is less than complete, and child labour is still an issue and cause for concern.

Despite some progress, only approximately 60% of all young people have completed primary education. After leaving school, most young people face longer transition periods to their first job lasting between one and six years.

In most sub-Saharan African countries, technical and vocational education and training play only a marginal role, despite the fact that strengthening vocationalised education has been a recurrent (but also controversial) policy measure to combat youth unemployment and promote economic innovation and productivity.

Besides government agencies running technical and vocational training institutions, private providers — some registered, some informal — have grown in importance.

In North Africa for example, which reports one of the highest vocational training shares, government support for this type of education as a means to promote industrial modernisation has been crucial. It is also the region on the African continent where private pro-vision of training is most prominent, most notably also in technical occupations.

In total, formal vocational education and training have a difficult standing in sub-Saharan African countries, despite the fact that there is evidence that vocational training leads to better integration into wage employment.

In general there is only limited institutional support on behalf of policy makers, governments and ministerial agencies, which would have to invest more into vocational training at schools (and in cooperation with business). Expanding general education, which has its merits, tends to crowd out vocational education.

These factors tend to create an equilibrium that is unfavourable to the establishment of vocational training although technical and vocational education and training could in principle be a major trigger of economic progress in the African context.

In many respects, South Africa is a special case in the African context.

South Africa has a different level of economic development and a much lower informal employment share. However in our country — with a large share of young people in the labour force — the overall unemployment rate and youth unemployment is very high, the latter reaching more than 40%.

Approximately one in eight young people has a proper job and the employment of young people has declined by about 20% since 2008.

The difficult situation of youth unemployment can be explained by the large share of low-skilled and inexperienced young South Africans, with almost 60% not completing secondary education.

Two thirds of the young have never worked, mirroring long phases of non-employment and others leave school prematurely to enter directly into jobs.

They face major barriers to entering the labour market above a casual and low-pay level, which is also most vulnerable to economic fluctuations.

Existing schooling also does not provide young people with the skills required by employers.

Furthermore the South African schooling system still reproduces inequality between different social and ethnic groups. As comparative data shows, vocational training only plays a marginal role in the South African context and does not meet the requirements of the economy in particular as existing industrial training institutions and company-based training centres have declined in the 1990s and not been replaced by an up-to-date system.

During recent years, however, to combat youth unemployment, the South African government — similar to other governments in the region — has put major emphasis on expanding public work programmes with labour-intensive modes of production. But these programmes are also expected to provide some on-the-job training.

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