Every year the world celebrates Labour Day. It is marked with the celebration of the socio-economic achievements of workers worldwide.
Basically, the Labour Day reminds the working class globally that having a job is a precious thing.
In Africa, the Labour Day should give us an opportunity to address critical employment challenges, especially among the youth.
Even though, the unemployment problem is a global phenomenon and presents a particularly difficult labour market experience for youth all over the world, in Africa unemployment and underemployment continue to be one of the major obstacles to the full optimization of human resource.
This happens despite relatively improved economic growth in the continent over the last decade.
The late Noble Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai, while receiving the prize in 2014, said that “if young people are a gift to both their communities and the world, then Africa is a continent rich of gifts.”
The youth bubble in this continent is a potential demographic dividend if all are integrated into labour force.
However, Africa’s unrelenting youth unemployment is creating concern over the continent’s ability to use its young people’s potential for its economic transformation.
There are positive steps toward improving education systems but we are still failing to provide a large proportion of our youth with the skills they need to earn a living. There is hardly attainment of basic skills or the specific ones that match the demands of the labour market, and many youths are still unable to find employment.
Consequently, finding opportunities for young people remains a critical challenge.
Experts observe that youth who have gone through our education often exhibit skills irrelevant to current demand in the labour market. This creates a situation where educational and skill requirements mismatch, resulting in millions of unemployed and underemployed youths.
This large unemployed population represents lost potential since communities and nations fail to benefit from what young people could contribute.
Also, difficulties in finding and sustaining employment detract from a young person’s lifetime productivity and earnings, making it more challenging to escape poverty – which is among the greatest African enemies.
Our governments have implemented a number of programmes aimed at creating employment, specifically for the youth. These policies consist of those aimed at providing an enabling environment for the private sector to create jobs and those targeted at building the skills and requisite knowledge to make the youth more employable.
There have also been initiatives like vocational training programmes which have been advocated for to try and improve skills related to specific technologies and to develop them further in the workplace.
This is to enable them acquire the requisite job market skills, attitude, knowledge and support services, to increase their chances of starting and sustaining businesses or being employable.
All these are positive steps, but more need to be done to contain the worrying trend of unemployment as a large number of youth continuously join the labour market every year.
As it was observed in the just-concluded regional employment forum organized by Ministry of public service and labour, in Kigali, to discuss achievements, challenges and recommendations for addressing unemployment and underemployment especially among young people, more efforts must be made to integrate the unemployed in the labour market and facilitate their research for decent and productive jobs.
Rwanda, like other countries, faces this challenge and has so far undertaken various policy interventions to curb youth unemployment. The government still needs support from all partners in the private sector to fast-track development in key sectors.
The same cross-sectoral synergies need to be strengthened by expanding focus on youth unemployment in other sectors such agriculture.
Specifically, our young people after graduating from higher learning institutions are not willing to venture into sectors like agri-business despite their vast opportunities.
There is need to push for a change of mindset. Beyond academic papers, they need to realise that there is more that can be done in creating a sustainable income generating activity rather than scrambling for office jobs.
This means the youth need to be equipped not only with the technical skills, but also the mindset of the entrepreneur, through our formal and informal education systems.
One scholar couldn’t have put it any better when he said; “if you give a young person a chance to get his or her hands dirty as an entrepreneur, you will inspire and prepare that person to one day launch entrepreneurial ventures on a much larger scale – ventures that can potentially create thousands of jobs.”
Therefore, the Labour Day celebrations that will be marked on Sunday should reflect on young people who aspire to improve their future as well as have every opportunity to experiment, learn, adapt – and eventually succeed in either getting employed or creating own jobs.
It is thus imperative to strengthen strategies to address the existing skills gap, investment constraints faced by the private sector, and, above all, prioritise industrialisation.