Are digital jobs the answer for Africa’s young unemployed?

2 February 2016

The digital ‘revolution’ is widely seen as a key opportunity for the growing population of young people in Africa. Analysis in a new IDS Rapid Response Briefing however cautions against viewing digital jobs as a silver bullet to the unemployment crisis and stresses the need to develop digital creators in Africa - not just digital deliverers. 

Graphic describing the rising population of young people in Africa.

Growing population of young people

The statistics relating to Africa’s young population are staggering. The continent has the youngest population in the world, with 200 million people aged between 15 and 24 - a figure projected to double by 2045.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) Global Employment Trends 2014 found that sub-Saharan Africa also has the highest rate of vulnerable employment in the world, exceeding 77 per cent in 2013. And young people are disproportionately affected, with employment opportunities, such as they are, neither reliable nor sustainable.

Developing digital skills

The new briefing ‘Can Digital Jobs Solve Africa’s Unemployment Crisis?’ by IDS’ Digital and Technology Cluster Leader Ben Ramalingam, highlights that for digital jobs to really be an answer to the ‘ticking time bomb’ of youth unemployment there are many challenges to overcome. For instance, the sheer number of young people versus likely job creation.

Dalberg research estimates the number of jobs created by digital technologies as 40,000 in the six major African countries that are the focus of Digital Jobs Africa, while the number of potential youth entering the workplace in those same countries has been estimated at 2 million. At best, that means a digital job for one in 50 young people.

There also challenges regarding developing a broad level of job opportunities and entrepreneurship. For example, developing skills to create digital design and engineer solutions rather than simply servicing the lower-skilled delivery end of the global digital market. Countries will also need to build on their existing capabilities to respond to and create digital demand, and find other ways of dealing with the discrepancy between record high numbers of job market entrants versus likely rates of new job creation.

Government needed to lead the way

All of the challenges identified mean that looking to digital as the winning strategy to young unemployment is a risky approach – not just because it may not work, but because it has the potential to make African growth even more unequal than it is at the present time.

Download the full briefing 'Can Digital Jobs Solve Africa’s Unemployment Crisis?’