Experts believe investing in Africa’s young is critical

research project has been launched to explore the aspirations, adaptability and resilience of the youth in Africa amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the concept of the initiative, called ‘Young Women and Men’s Aspirations and Resilience Research Uptake Project’, it seeks to produce an in-depth understanding of “how young men and women innovate to create their own opportunities” so as to inform relevant policies that focus on the needs of young people in seven Sub-Saharan countries.

The project, implemented by the Nairobi-based Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR) in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, will focus on university students, graduates, those from technical, vocational, education and training, or TVET, institutions and, those without formal training.

The project was launched earlier in September and October during two research inception and validation workshops held in Ghana and Kenya that sought the input of stakeholders drawn from governments, academia, civil society and the private sector to co-create the project’s research work in collaboration with the initiative’s research implementation team under PASGR’s Utafiti Sera programme.

Youth’s voices are muted

According to the project proponents, young men and women in Africa are increasingly omitted in policy discussions concerning their economic aspirations, socio-cultural aspirations, education and training.

In countries such as Kenya, they said, young people are associated with laziness, crime, conflict and unemployment, with their voices missing in the making of policies that affect them.

“We want to demystify existing stereotypes about the youth and give them space in the policy-making process,” said Dr Anthony Mveyange, the executive director of PASGR.

With the pandemic ravaging almost all sectors of the economy, Mveyange says that there is a need to generate research evidence to support policies and programmes on the effects of COVID-19 on the aspirations of the youth.

Such evidence, he said, would build the basis placing the youth at the centre of recovery interventions and strategies aimed at strengthening socio-economic systems in Africa.

Rising unemployment

During the two workshops, experts from the government, private sector and academic institutions decried the rising rates of unemployment among the youth, especially university graduates.

For instance, Ghana’s unemployment (qualified but jobless) and underemployment (qualifications underutilised) rates stood at 12% and 50% respectively. With COVID-19 worsening the situation, the experts emphasised the need for the youth to be equipped with the right skills to adapt.

Speaking to University World News in an interview during the inception meeting of Kenya’s project, Mveyange said that education reforms from secondary schools to universities will be key drivers to building requisite skills for the youth needed in COVID-19 recovery interventions.

“One of the major complaints from the private sector is that universities are churning out youth who are not skilled enough to respond to [market] needs,” said Mveyange, adding that true transformation will need institutions of higher education to not only equip students with the right skills but also how to apply them.

Through the project, Mveyange believes the voices of young people will find space into the policy sphere and get programmes responding to their true aspirations.

The programme also proposes to bridge the gap between research and policymaking by having researchers and policymakers co-work in the project.

“The challenge is that researchers are in isolation, whereas policymakers are often confronted with programmes that require urgent actions … policymakers find research not speaking to their needs,” said Mveyange, elucidating that, under the Utafiti Sera project, the aim is to have researchers and policymakers on board from the beginning, speaking to each other.

“With the voices of different stakeholders, research uptake will be easy and it will find its way into the policy spaces.”

Skills mismatch

Dr Kwasi Owusu Poku, the executive director of the Ghanaian organisation Youth Development Research and Innovation Centre, said that skills mismatch is still a key driver of unemployment rates in Africa, with graduates not meeting the demands of the industry.

The mismatch in skills, he said, is driven by education and training that has no link to the skills and competencies needed in the important sectors of the economy such as industry, agriculture and service industries.

However, Poku said that the lack of coherent national employment policies and comprehensive strategies to address the challenges of unemployment also led to the high rates of unemployment and underemployment in Ghana and other African countries. Therefore, “we have to do both research and advocacy to help governments get the right policies that deal with unemployment,” said Poku.

Ghana’s Deputy Minister for Education and a Member of Parliament representing Abuakwa North constituency, Gifty Twum-Ampofo, lauded the project, emphasising the need to develop the skills of the youth, especially preparing them for self-employment.

“The future of the present generation is in the hands of the youth. Investing in them will offer great opportunities that will propel Ghana to development,” said Twum-Ampofo.

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