With 70% of sub-Saharan Africa under the age of 30, Africa has the youngest population in the world. With so many young people, the continent has a chance to grow, but only if the next generations are given the tools they need to reach their full potential. It is crucial that young people participate in decision-making processes and are provided with appropriate work and innovation opportunities.
A region's development prospects would benefit from having such a sizable young population, as they would typically represent a sizable and active workforce.
However, the lack of employment opportunities for young people in Africa continues to greatly restrict their potential. According to estimates from the African Development Bank, only one in six of the 420 million young people in Africa between the ages of 15 and 35 had wage employment in 2015. Another third of them were reportedly working in dangerous conditions.
Despite having a relatively sizable formal sector, Africa has one of the highest rates of youth unemployment and underemployment globally. This is influenced, in part, by labor market frictions, such as employers' reliance on referrals through professional networks for hiring and the lack of information about job applicants' digital skills.
Lack of Youth Digital Skills Presents Challenges
With many different factors that are hitting the ICT field in Africa, we see that Africa is prepared to grow in this field. Internet access and penetration are expanding; according to several forecasts, Africa’s digital economy will reach $180 billion by 2025 and $712 billion by 2050.
Therefore, we can’t deny that Africa still has a long way to go despite all this progress in the digital and technological sectors.
The continent continues to have the lowest global internet usage rate. In comparison to the global average of 66%, only about 40% of Africa’s population has access to the internet. The importance of expanding internet access is underscored by the positive effects the internet can have and by the young demographics of Africa's population.
Moreover, the lack of equal access to high-quality education is an obvious barrier, taking into account that the development of digital skills and the equitable adoption of fundamental digital skills as well as pertinent soft and hard skills are both essential components of primary and secondary education. In addition to qualified teachers, this calls for better enrollment across the continent, particularly among girls and in remote areas. In order to teach digital skills, schools must have access to the necessary equipment, infrastructure and connectivity, with a focus on underserved communities and rural areas.
Also, the uptake of digital skills can be significantly increased through technical and vocational education and training (TVET). However, it must be carefully planned and targeted, with direct employer input and solid ties to the labor market.
East African nations have successfully started to address TVET challenges by adopting the Regional TVET Qualifications Framework, mainstreaming regional qualifications into national policies and qualification frameworks, and raising overall TVET standards.
African Youth Digital Skills Enabler: The NEET Program
The goal of the NEET program is to enable more young people in South Africa to access decent jobs in the digital economy.
After determining their needs, young people will be connected to appropriate opportunities and services using digital case management to connect them to decent employment and educational opportunities. Their development will also be tracked by the system. A total of 500 members of the youth services staff will receive system usage training before passing it on to others.
This ground-breaking system will improve stakeholder coordination processes by seamlessly integrating a range of services that will help modernize youth NEET labor intermediation services in the digital economy.
Moreover, there is a need for a comprehensive system-wide approach that considers the entire government and entire society to identify and propose solutions and systems that better connect the supply and demand of digital skills. Research and stakeholder consultation are needed to inform national digital skills initiatives that serve the needs of youth.
To help young people get ready, digital skills training will be offered. Several training programs will be developed, specifically designed to meet their learning requirements. These programs are based on a skills shortage, a review of national efforts, and demand assessments that will cover science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics, innovation and entrepreneurship (STEAMIE) subjects. They will also provide opportunities to apply the acquired skills in real-world contexts.
The future of our continent depends on young school-leavers and graduates being able to break new ground in the digital landscape, which is why we believe that initiatives and programs like these are so important. Ideas that can improve the continent and their own country are residing in the minds of these young generations. But this will only come to pass if we take it upon ourselves to arm today’s youth with the knowledge and abilities required to succeed in the workplace of the future.