Ignore the youth at your own peril

IN JANUARY this year, I wrote an article in this paper that called for all stakeholders including political leaders, business heavyweights, policymakers, and influential members of the civil society to work hand in hand and on equal footing to prepare Rwanda’s young generation for the journey ahead – after all, young people represent the promise of changing the Rwandan society for the better. 

IN JANUARY this year, I wrote an article in this paper that called for all stakeholders including political leaders, business heavyweights, policymakers, and influential members of the civil society to work hand in hand and on equal footing to prepare Rwanda’s young generation for the journey ahead – after all, young people represent the promise of changing the Rwandan society for the better. 

Then, I insisted that in order for Rwanda to achieve the goal of becoming a knowledge-based, middle-income economy in the near future, a collective approach was necessary both from the public and private sectors to empower the youth with skills, particularly employment skills, needed to contribute to the growth of the economy.

To put things into perspective, let us for a moment consider the state of the youth on a global scale. 

Generally speaking, the world now has the largest generation aged 15 to 24 in history, and almost 90 percent of these young men and women live in developing countries. 

Various sources have confirmed that high fertility rates in the developing world mean that their share of the global population is likely to increase over the next 20 years, and that many developing countries are already experiencing a ‘youth bulge’. 

And yet, analysts point out that if no immediate action is taken, we risk confronting the dismal legacy of presiding over a ‘lost generation’. In fact, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) shares a similar observation: the world is facing a worsening youth employment crisis whereby young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and almost 73 million youth worldwide are actively looking for work. 

Also, of those in work, ILO reports that 200 million of them earn less than $2 a day, which indicates that informal employment which involves mainly temporary employment remains omnipresent.

In Rwanda, circumstances are not any different. In fact, according to the second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS 2013-2018), key challenges facing Rwanda include high levels of underemployment in rural areas, insufficient non-farm jobs being created, and high cost, uncompetitive skilled labour at hand especially in urban areas. 

We also know that persistent youth unemployment and underemployment carry very high social and economic costs and threaten the fabric of the Rwandan society. 

So, which measures can we apply to pledge our commitment to the young generation? To begin with, a holistic approach is needed with measures to foster pro-employment growth and decent job creation through macroeconomic policies, employability, labour market policies, entrepreneurship, while ensuring access to financial services for young people. 

Below are some of the policies that can go a long way towards curbing youth employment;

Youth employability

A lot has been discussed regarding youth unemployment. Many have argued that indeed youth unemployment is fuelled by a lack of adequate employment opportunities. 

Others have countered that youth unemployment is due to a severe lack of education, training and skills needed to succeed in the market place. We can all agree that education, training and lifelong learning foster a virtuous cycle of improved employability, higher productivity, income growth and development. 

However, several million young people are still without basic reading and writing skills needed to succeed in the work place. 

Governments need to ensure the quality of basic education that is provided as well as improving the links between education, training and the world of work through social dialogue on skills mismatch and standardization of qualifications in response to the needs of the market place. 

Education institutions should also concentrate on the quality and not the quantity of graduates they churn out of their respective institutions.

Youth entrepreneurship

Youth entrepreneurship can be a pathway to decent work for many young people around the world. In fact, an enabling environment for starting and successfully operating a business is essential given that young people especially in developing countries need training that meets the demands of the market place, both to find and take on jobs and to create their own businesses. 

When young people gain the ability to create their own businesses, they add to economic growth and jobs, but also stimulate structural change and innovation by encouraging the development of entrepreneurial skills and attitudes amongst themselves.

It is also worth noting that entrepreneurial and technical training must, in turn, be combined with adequate access to financial services to help young people during the crucial ‘lift off’ period. The private sector should play a leading role in helping young people transform their ideas into real business opportunities.

Labour-intensive public and private investment

Pro-employment macroeconomic policies such as labour-intensive investment policies that support stronger aggregate demand are crucial. 

Labour-intensive processes are those where the ratio of labour to other inputs of production is relatively large. In this case, countries facing youth employment crisis should consider public investment in large-scale infrastructure that can generate new decent employment opportunities while meeting social needs and improving infrastructure. 

Coincidentally, in Rwanda, EDPRS II is ideally placed to increase the domestic interconnectivity of the Rwandan economy through investments in hard and soft infrastructure, whereby, if executed properly and sustainably, such a platform could boost the much needed labour-intensive employment opportunities.

In short, we cannot afford to neglect the world’s largest generation. This is especially true for developing countries where 90 percent of these young men and women live. 

The equation is simple; young people plus decent jobs equals growth. If we take away decent jobs the result is; unemployment and young working poor. The choice is ours.

The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Services Policy.

Twitter: @Jsabex