By Amanda Ellen Nicola Jojo
YOUTH remain the backbone for sustainable growth in Africa and the World Bank predicts that as many 11 million young people will join an expanding labor market every year for the next decade. Thus, there is need to strengthen skills development systems that improve employability, promote access to employment opportunities and increase incomes for inclusive growth.
Against this background, African Union Scholar Shingirayi Kondongwe founded Youth Opportunities Hub (YOH) which is a non-profit entity interested in assisting the global youth to take opportunities that come their way. It came into existence in June 2020 in order to fill the dearth of information when it comes to youth opportunities.
“When I came back to Zimbabwe from the diaspora around March 2020, it just took me two months of my stay in the country to realise that not much was being done when it comes to the dissemination of information regarding youth opportunities. I realised that the problem we have today is getting information to young people, and that’s how Youth Opportunities Hub was born.
“YOH is the most effective platform to find latest opportunities for free and avail important educational contents for continued self-development and it draws its membership from over 100 countries worldwide,” said Kondongwe.
The visionary behind YOH believe that “Access to Information” is the passage to success and achievement.
“Despite advancement in Information Communication Technology (ICT) there is still serious lack of awareness level among youth about different opportunities relating to youth development.
“Therefore, thousands of youths are missing out important opportunities for self- development in the form of education, grants, international exposure, employment just to name a few. The platform receives up to 2 million views monthly. YOH creates awareness through sharing of these opportunities via its online platform www.youthopportunitieshub.com,” Kondongwe stated.
In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly declared 15 July World Youth Skills Day to celebrate the strategic importance of equipping young people with skills for employment, decent work and entrepreneurship.
In consistence with the aims of World Youth Skills Day, Kondongwe said the celebrations represent everything that his organisation is working for.
He said: “It is a crucial day not only for us but for the rest of the world to raise awareness on the importance of creating opportunities for young people. It is inevitable that youth unemployment and lack of other economic opportunities causes mental health disorders, conflicts and violence. It is a fact that the global economic crisis has taken a terrible toll on young people across the world. So, celebrating days like these is a huge step in the right direction and that is why it means a lot to me.”
In the light of that, YOH plays a pivotal role of publicizing information to young people concerning opportunities to advance their skills.
“…YOH also conduct various youth programs as a way of enhancing youth skills. A good example is our Youth Opportunities Hub Country Representative Program (YOHCRP) in which we select and connect youths from various African countries with the main purpose of giving them free leadership training. Upon successful completion of the program, each Cohort receive Certificates in recognition of their participation,” he said.
Furthermore, YOH is also forging partnerships with various Youth Organisations around the continent and the notable partnership that they are working on at the moment is with SAYouth, the largest Youth organisation in South Africa. SAYouth is responsible for connecting employers to the youths that are in dire need of employment.
“In conjunction with SAYouth, we are developing a system of tracking progress and impact, for instance, which youths benefited from a training program or employment and how? This data will help us to understand the impact of our programs in the context of developing youth skills,” Kondongwe stressed.
YOH’s advocacy for acceleration of youth skills spreads beyond the confinements of the Africa region as it is also partnering with global institutions.
“Recently, we partnered with International University of Applied Sciences (IU) from Germany. IU is currently offering 80% scholarships to prospective students for all Bachelor, Master, or MBA degrees. The idea is to make education accessible to everyone who would like to grow on personal and professional level. The nature of our partnership is to promote this offer through our website,” he said.
Research indicates that at least 20% of the continent’s youth population are not active economic growth participants. However, the World Bank asserted that there will be a 70% rise in Africa’s working population (ages 15 to 64) thus this will make the continent ripe for ideas, technology and growth.
Kondongwe upholds that the several obstacles that may curtail this potential growth.
“Firstly, lack of adequate capital. New ideas, technology and growth necessitate the need for more businesses and entrepreneurial innovations in order to create more jobs, but due to lack of adequate capital in most African countries, this growth may prove difficult to achieve.
“If we look at Africa, international institutions are not set up for young people. Africa doesn’t have financial institutions and markets to serve young people yet we have a population of 455 million young people and the number is predicted to rise to 850 million by 2050.
“Today if a young person in Africa go to a bank, for example, they would be probably asked, ‘How old are you? Oh, you are 21 years old… go and bring your tax history for the last 25 years’. What does that really mean? It means young people are excluded from business financing. How can the continent be ready for new ideas, technology and growth in such a scenario?”
He placed emphasis on the need to create new financial ecosystems around young people these can be in the form of Youth Entrepreneurship Investment Banks (YEIBs) their mandate will be to create, support and finance businesses of young people in a large cycle model throughout, from technical assistance, debt to equity financing.
Some of the hindrances that negatively impact the full realisation of youth realisation include bad policies, corruption, poor fiscal management, lack of foreign direct investment because of a no-conducive operating environment, lack of adequate infrastructure characterised by energy poverty, poor roads and so on, is also another big factor that may militate against Africa’s potential growth
To curb these mitigations, he said: “There is also need to strengthen state institutions especially the judiciary, anti-corruption commissions and other related institutions in order to curb corruption. We cannot talk of growth without roads! We cannot talk of growth in the midst of energy poverty! New ideas, technology and growth thrive where there is adequate infrastructure.
“Most African governments should commit to build infrastructure and sometimes this can be achieved through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs). Conflicts in the context of terrorism and interstate wars are also serious obstacles. For instance, if we look at the current situation in DRC (Goma), Nigeria (Northern part), Mozambique (Cabo Delgado), CHAD just to name a few, the situations there are not ripe for growth, new ideas and growth.
“New ideas and growth in Africa will thrive where there is peace. The solution is to do away with bad leadership which I believe is the main reason behind these conflicts. Regional organizations must also play a significant role in maintaining peace through mediation and negotiations in these conflict ravaged countries,“ he remarked.
In order to develop the skillset of youth he laid emphasis on the need to availproper career guidance, equipping youth with relevant theoretical training based on their personal choices and passions as well as providing them with practical opportunities to get relevant industrial experience.
“The youths must be given more opportunities through learnerships, internships, graduate programs, apprenticeships just to name a few, so as to equip them with the skills to become economically active youth and active members of the job force. This will greatly reduce the challenge of falling short in vocational skills, soft skills and experience. However, let me emphasize that there is no one-size fits all approach when it comes to youth development through skills, what is important is the foundation which I believe is proper career guidance,” he pointed out.
Evidence indicates that young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults the reason being structural unemployment which is a mismatch between the skills that young workers in the economy can offer.
Remarking on that he said: “It is important to note that the world of work as we used to know it maybe in the 70s, 80s and 90s is completely different from the current settings. Without undermining the structural unemployment argument, from my own point of view, rather it is the global labour/economic opportunities that are shrinking coupled with population increase.”
He expressed concern on Africa’s worrisome situation whereby the youth population is increasing yet the economic opportunities are shrinking.
“Decades ago when someone finished a college degree or any form of training, they were guaranteed of securing employment. The world of work as of today offers limited opportunities, it’s a survival of the fittest scenario.
“Now, this is the situation that gave birth to what we call “structural unemployment” whereby those with more years of experience are preferred in comparison to those with little or no experience at all, because of limited economic opportunities.
“So, rather than saying ‘mismatch of skills’, it is fair to say, due to lack of economic/employment opportunities, young people are struggling to get employment of which it is employment that will give them those necessary industrial skills. In simple terms, more graduates, fewer jobs,” he said.
To address the structural unemployment, he called on the urgent need to restructure the education system by creating a modern, creative and innovative education relevant to the needs of the 21st century.
“Some young people who lack technological/digital skills are at a very big disadvantage. Modern education must be characterised by more action than mere papers! More practice than theory. Maybe countries especially in the developing world, should start to create more Polytechnic and Vocational colleges and build an economy around skillful people.”