Young people aged between 15 and 25 represent more than 60 per cent of the continent’s total population and account for 45 per cent of the total labour force. Unlike other developing regions, sub-Saharan Africa’s population is becoming more youthful, with youth as a proportion of the total population projected at over 75 per cent by 2015, due to the high fertility rate underlying the demographic momentum. It is expected that this increase in the number of young people will not decline before 20 years or more.
It is estimated that about 133 million young people (more than 50 per cent of the youth population) in Africa are illiterate. Many young people have little or no skills and are therefore largely excluded from productive economic and social life. Those that have some education often exhibit skills irrelevant to current demand in the labour market, in a situation where educational and skill requirements are increasing, resulting in millions of unemployed and underemployed youth. The incidence of youth unemployment in sub- Saharan African is estimated to be over 20 per cent. Too often, vocational training is seen as a means to “help bring young people back” when the basic education system has failed (the notion of giving a second chance), or as a top-up to the basic knowledge base young people will need, to help prepare them for the immediate needs of the world of work (the notion of continuous adaptation or re-adaptation to a flexible and constantly changing labour market). This type of vocational training needs be replaced or supplemented by an educational option which can provide young people with a maximum set of durable achievements in terms of literacy, basic knowledge and lifelong learning skills. Vocational training also has a very specific purpose, namely, to improve skills related to specific technologies and to develop them further in the work place.
However, vocational training as a single intervention is likely to be insufficient to overcome a context of high levels of youth unemployment because of serious difficulties in integrating youth into the labour market, especially amongst early school leavers. The reason
being that poor skill levels are only one of a myriad of factors leading to youth unemployment. To counter this and make TVSD successful other reforms including labour-market policies for young workers need to encompass training as part of an integrated and targeted package that recognise the array of labour market barriers that youth face. This is important if the training programmes are to be successful. Some of the most powerful of these barriers to employment opportunities for many young people are: lack of job creation, vulnerability of young workers to layoffs when economic growth falters, high labour costs or unrealistic wage expectations on the part of youth, discrimination (i.e. negative attitudes towards inexperienced young workers), poor access to fundamental education (e.g. the lack of skills from limited job experience and hence little access to on-the-job training), government policies that discourage work, rapid economic change, and the compounded labour-market disadvantages that accompany poverty.
Understanding these core causes of youth unemployment is an essential first step before costly investments in TVSD are made. Perhaps due to the lack of this understanding, much of the training offered to young unemployed people is said not to have lived up to its expectations when subjected to rigorous evaluation of training programmes, which in general have not yielded positive results in raising incomes and job offers for these workers.
As highlighted earlier, most school leavers, especially early school leavers, find work in the informal sector. The case of Benin and Senegal, illustrated earlier, show important efforts to expand and upgrade informal apprenticeship to enhance the employability of young people. The ILO has made other important efforts to support youth transition to work. In particular, it supports dual apprenticeship systems in combination with initiatives to improve access of girls, disabled and other vulnerable groups to training, and with the introduction of social protection for apprentices, and the provision of post-training support for graduates through access to microfinance and other support for self-employment.
Nigeria provides an example of an employment creation initiative, for unemployed youth though vocational skills-development programmes.