If young people in Africa are to find jobs, policies must focus on creating many more opportunities for young people to gain work. The key problem is not an inappropriate supply of young people’s labour to labour markets, but an insufficient demand for what young people have, or could have, to offer.
The policy focus on youth employment arises from concerns around violence and missed economic opportunities, but “youth” are a poorly defined and heterogeneous demographic.
What is clear from numerous empirical studies on young people’s engagement with work in Africa is that they do not generally lack the skills or education to work, nor are idle by choice. Young Africans are better educated than ever before and actively seeking jobs. As policymakers increasingly recognise, the provision of opportunities to work is the main challenge.
New and more effective policy directions are needed to create and reimagine livelihood opportunities in environments in which paid work remains limited. Sustainably addressing youth un/underemployment in Africa depends on rethinking employment in favour of demand-oriented policies that create more jobs (as well as rethinking welfare systems and trade policies), rather than focusing on producing ever better job-seekers.