Joblessness among the youth is one of the 21st century global challenges, particularly in Africa where the rate of population has been on its unprecedented growth. The United Nations estimates that half of the global population increase is expected to occur in Africa between now and the year 2050. This sounds far but the pressure is already mounting due to the bulging number of people in the continent against limited sources of livelihoods.
Similarly, there has been a considerable increase in the levels of education amongst the young population. Thanks to the crave about attaining higher institution of learning qualifications, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, are released from these phenomenon Universities and Colleges to the African job market every year. They come out with high expectations of adding value to the society by way of working in their respective areas of proficiency as well as earn a decent living depicting a graduate.
To their amazement, the narrative changes and they are then confronted with reality of no jobs. These young fellows are informed of the economic turbulences, where employment is hard to come by. In public sector, arising positions are seemingly too few to depend on or having some sort of waiting lists where godfather plays a bigger role than merit itself. With the blessing of the infamous youth are future leaders; even the few surfacing opportunities are merely entry-level positions irrespective of the number of years one has spent job seeking.
This is because the required experience for even middle level positions are obnoxiously unattainable by any young African who has spent quarter of his or her age looking for a job. It brings the question of when young people of this continent would meaningfully participate in the development of their economies if their roles were reserved at the very lowest levels of institutional rungs.
The private sector equally has fair share of its challenges. The economic conditions hardly promote their growth, some constantly seeking to reduce their labour force. This is because they are subjected to compete with cheaper foreign goods and services, while their operation costs cannot offer any competitive advantage to this effect. Thinking of them creating any jobs is an insult to their misery!
These ordeals leave a larger number of youth languishing in frustrations and wondering the essence of their education. Some begin to question the existing establishments on why their tormenting state of affairs. The political class and elected leaders seem not to have any long-term answer to these concerns. It has become nearly a common occurrence that we have most of our young people with neither employment nor credible plan to address the situation in many African countries.
Instead, they have resorted to the chorus of young people creating their own jobs, which is seen as a magic bullet. Policy makers, in their comfort zones, pretend to scratch their heads and talk loudest on how to salvage the African youth through the self-employment notion. Oh yes, entrepreneurship looks like a good idea indeed. However, what do we put in place to facilitate this in order to enable youth to venture into their own enterprise creation.
Going back to the education system, we are dealing with those who were prepared to serve or fill spaces in different sectors of the economy in terms being employed. Diverting this orientation requires incentive that would entice them to consider entrepreneurship as an alternative or as a better venture than employment. This stage at which the desire for youth to create their own-jobs is introduced is challenge in itself.
It is not clear if the curricula in the Institutions of Higher Learning are responsive to entrepreneurial mindset across all disciplines. Such mindset paradigm shift requires deep attitudinal change and real-world approaches to business development rather than conforming to the industry practices. Education needs to support or respond to the emerging trends including entrepreneurship from its very core. Emphasis on practical solutions to the existing challenges by the curricula rather than application of theories and processes must be emphasized.
Consequently, the discourse around entrepreneurship will not only be surrounded on presence of financial capital but human capital. In fact, in the real world it has been proven that the best entrepreneurs grew to their humongous levels not by how much cash they had at their disposal in the beginning, but by the ingenuity of their ideas and solutions they brought forth.
In this regard, leveraging science and technology has been in the offing to turn around the entrepreneurship chronicle. Young people, as they say, do not only have the energy but are also in touch with the current affairs. This makes them epitome for fostering creativity and innovation in terms of creating their own businesses with the aid of technology.
Meanwhile, harnessing that demographic dividend requires investments in the IT related areas to ease access and affordability. Therefore, the question is whether the IT infrastructure is adequate enough to catapult aspiring entrepreneurs. In the same vein, there must be existence of other supportive physical infrastructure such as efficient road transport and affordable power supply. Reliable electricity connectivity promotes small-scale home manufacturing as well as growth of middle level industries created by the young people.
Again, youth entrepreneurship must not just be an imaginary political talk but should be cascaded in a policy framework. Notably, many countries have done so, but the widening youth unemployment problem is an indication that there are still impediments in terms of their implementation. Furthermore, promotion of youth entrepreneurship must not just stop at the policy level but should also be embedded in national legislations.
Favourable taxation regimes for youth owned enterprises, youth friendly procurement practices, youth enterprise financial instruments and mentorship programs are some of the elements that must be fastened through legal and institutional framework. Such framework must clearly identify the persons concerned and tackle their plights in real time.
For instance, unclear provisions on who qualifies to be a youth should be addressed. Due to this gap, some ill-mannered persons find their way to disguise themselves in the name of youth to take up existing advantages. Hence, lack of clear distinction of the age bracket or definition of a youth in most of the African countries have also continued depriving the young people their deserved rights.
African Youth charter defines youth as one between 15-35 years old. In contrary, not many countries have domesticated the same in their national laws leaving every tom dick and hurry to masquerade as a youth. Ridiculously, some of those leading the youth dockets are themselves out of the youth bracket, and obviously out of touch. Meaning, the young people in such instances are robbed their rightful opportunities even at their very own doorsteps!
All said and done, youth entrepreneurship discourse should not just be a mythical approach to solving unemployment challenges or creating disingenuous hope among the youth. There must be an existence of a firm operational tool; systems, policies, laws, resources and investments to make it stand on its two feet. Eventually, there must be honest political will by those in leadership to create an enabling environment for young people to thrive.