By: Francis Kokutse, in Accra, Ghana
Sometimes, the gods listen to us. And it seems they have heard the continent’s cry for a solution to our youth unemployment problem that has overwhelmed us. They have decided to use the Washington DC-based next-generation university platform, Nexford University, to come out with how to get our young people employed.
Director of career innovation at Nexford University, Jennifer Bangoura, has put a finger on the problem and said, though Africa is absolutely struggling with high unemployment rates, it is also at the same time, facing a skills mismatch between what employers want, and what job seekers can provide.
With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the largest population of young people in the world and an African Development Bank report says, youth unemployment “occurs at a rate more than twice that for adults.” The same report said, young women feel the sting of unemployment even more sharply than young men. It also found that in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and all of those in North Africa, it is easier for men to get jobs than it is for women, even if they have equivalent skills and experience. This clearly means that there are no national policies to get the problem solved.
An analysis by the World Bank said the continent’s youths account for 60 percent of all of Africa’s unemployment figures. In North Africa for instance, the youth unemployment rate is 25 percent, but it is even greater in Botswana, the Republic of the Congo, Senegal, South Africa, and other countries.
We must also face the fact that the continent’s unemployment statistics exclude those in vulnerable employment and those who are under-employed in informal sectors. “Young people [in Africa] find work, but not in places that pay good wages, develop skills or provide a measure of job security,” reports the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.
The Brooking Institute made it clear that youth employment is not a one-dimensional challenge. Addressing it will require attention to the quality of basic education and training to improve young people’s productivity, while also removing current obstacles that hinder progress in agriculture, household enterprises, and the modern wage sector.
“If children do not know how to read or do basic mathematics at the end of their years in primary school, this basic skills gap has a profound impact on productivity in adulthood. If young people have weak access to land and to credit, their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs or working in high-paying, rewarding jobs will be dashed. If university graduates acquire degrees and knowledge that have little practical application in Africa’s fast-changing labour force, then their investment of time and money will have been largely in vain, with few prospects for strong careers in the private sector.
It is for this reason that Nexford University must be praised for the step it has taken to help Africa, which Bangoura says, “part of our mission is to bridge that gap with our industry-relevant, competency-based curriculum that prepares learners for the shifting world of work.”
Accordingly, the university has set up a “Career Coalition” for Africa that will reinforce connections for Nexford job seekers, learners, and alumni with progressive companies who are eager to hire vetted talent.
She said what is exciting about the coalition is the opportunity to maintain an ongoing conversation with both learners and industry to ensure both understand the other’s needs. “Learners are hungry for access to relevant industry insights and employers globally are eager to keep a finger on the pulse of a rapidly shifting talent landscape,” Bangoura said, adding that, “industry demands shift, we’re able to adapt and integrate new offerings in the Nexford curriculum to ensure that companies’ existing employees can upskill and reskill, and that our career coalition members will have access to a steady pipeline of talent equipped with the skills necessary to thrive in the workplace.”
Nexford didn’t just come up with the coalition idea, research went into it, according to Bangoura. “Evidence-based research is not only at the heart of our curriculum, but it also underscores the initiatives we choose to invest our time and energy into. We have developed a workplace alignment model that is embedded throughout our curriculum and the career coalition.
“The model involves collecting insights and research from several sources including academic papers, job descriptions, social media, employer surveys, and professional associations. We distil those insights into our programming and offerings, which is how the career coalition was born,” she added.
Bangoura said research shows that creating meaningful connections for learners with industry, builds their knowledge, skills, and experience and prepares them for the world of work, adding that, “we know that one of the main reasons people pursue higher education is to improve their job opportunities – as a result, we want to make that transition even easier for our learners by connecting them directly to companies who want to hire people with their skill sets.
She said they are excited to continue to identify small to midsize enterprises who play a key role in creating jobs.
The Centre for Strategic and International Studies says SMEs make up 90 percent of the private sector in emerging economies and account for 50 percent of the jobs. “If we narrow in on Africa – SMEs create approximately 80% of the jobs, which has a significant impact on the economy,” she said, adding that, “our coalition will help job seekers and industry connect with one another as we help signal to learners who those leading companies are and coach them on strategies to be competitive candidates.”
The university itself says it is aware of the challenges that SMEs face when it comes to financing, and for this reason, they want to help learners overcome accessibility and affordability barriers with our next-generation ideas on how to navigate around all these problems. “Our focus is on meaningful employment that fits the needs of both Nexford learners and the companies in our career coalition. We’re excited to deepen partnerships with a variety of companies,” it added.
Bangoura was emphatic that employers across industries and both short and longer-term opportunities have a place as job seekers build their own career portfolios. “We look forward to continuing to help our learners and alumni forge lasting relationships with industry that will carry them forward in their careers,” she added.
As to when the coalition is likely to take off, Bangoura said they continue to add employers to the coalition on a weekly basis. “We will have an ongoing webinar series featuring members of our coalition who are excited to amplify their companies to new audiences and have already developed surveys for distribution to ensure our offerings’ alignment with industry demands that we’re solving for real pain points.”
The university expects over the next few months to launch a Nexford-exclusive job board featuring opportunities from its career coalition members and refine the talent network and ability to deliver exceptional candidates to its partners.
When this succeeds, the continent will be able to solve one of its worst problems that it has encountered over the past decade without a solution.
Francis Kokutse is a journalist based in Accra and writes for Associated Press (AP), University World News, as well as Science and Development.Net. He was a Staff Writer of African Concord and Africa Economic Digest in London, UK.
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