Out of the continent’s nearly 420 million young people aged 15-35, one-third are unemployed, another third is vulnerably employed, and only one in six is in wage employment according to the African Development Bank (AFDB, 2015, p.1). Unemployment therefore is a reality on the African continent, and it is estimated that the situation will worsen if no serious measures are taken. Population Reference Bureau estimates that by 2030 young Africans are expected to make up 42% of the world’s youth and account for 75% of those under 35 years in Africa.

Currently, there is a significant gap between the skills developed in tertiary education and the skills requirements of the labour market in sub-Saharan Africa. This situation presents both opportunities and risks. If managed properly, for example by investing in the skills and knowledge of young people at scale, then the economic and social situation of Africa can be transformed (Gates Foundation, Goal Keepers Report, 2018).

Furthermore, following the current trajectory, even those who will graduate from tertiary education institutions (universities and colleges, including TVET) will find it difficult to secure jobs thereby joining the increasing pool of unemployed graduates. A major contributor to this issue is the significant gap between the skills developed in tertiary education and the skills requirements of the labor market in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). A major concern of employers is that university graduates lack the relevant skills to be effective in the workplace (Dodoo & Kuupole, 2017).

“65% of African CEOs said skills shortage was preventing them from innovating effectively, 59% conceded their quality standards and customer experience were being undermined. In addition, 54% (global 44%) confirmed that they were missing their growth targets because of inadequate skills”. PWC’s 22nd Annual Global CEO Survey (2019).

To provide lasting solutions to the problem of unemployment and underemployment faced by young people on the continent, tertiary education institutions and employers have a role to play in addressing the challenges and closing the skills gap between education and work. They equally play a pivotal role in ensuring that young people have the skills and understanding of the workplace to transition successfully into work and succeed in their careers now and in the future.

There is a mismatch between what students are learning in university and the skills employers need. This is underpinned by a lack of data and evidence about what students do once they leave university or college.” Education Sub Saharan Africa’s 5th Anniversary Report (2021)

While employers are responsible for identifying the relevant skills and attributes that are necessary for work, universities, and colleges (including TVET) are responsible for creating spaces for students to develop relevant skills. Enhanced cooperation and collaboration between universities and industry is essential towards ensuring young people have the skills and understanding of the workplace. This will enable them transition successfully into work and succeed in their chosen career.

“We must adopt a systems approach to prepare young people for employment by improving career preparation and guidance services in universities. Once we identify what is relevant and timeless both in hard skills and in other competencies like adaptability, learning, flexibility, and intuition, it helps to train young people with the best skills for employment,” Rose Dodd, Director of the Education Collaborative said.

What is being done

In a move to enhance youth employability in sub-Saharan Africa, Education Sub Saharan Africa (ESSA) conducted stakeholder consultations over 10 weeks in summer 2020 which engaged students, tertiary education institutions, corporate and government agencies (in Ghana). The result of these consultations was the identification of critical barriers to increased employability. The barriers included limited data, measures and standards on employability required to guide strategies and practices within institutions; unclear industrial strategies and policies for industry investment and skills development; a mismatch between teaching and learning, skills development, and the needs of industry; and lack of career support and professional orientation for students within tertiary education institutions.

After identifying these barriers, the organisation set out to match employers with universities and colleges with the aim of helping youths’ transition into jobs through an evidence-based approach. ESSA is partnering with the Education Collaborative at Ashesi University to support tertiary education institutions in sub-Saharan Africa to develop effective careers service structures and industry engagement strategies. This support will be delivered via The Education Collaborative’s Systems Change Program.

ESSA is providing knowledge and evidence, initially to support the co-design and implementation of a careers service department at The University of Cape Coast, Ghana (UCC). We will also be developing and disseminating guidelines to support in scaling our intervention to support further institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. Resolving issues around employability require long term measures, a good strategy, and the involvement of all stakeholders. We remain hopeful that greater engagement will be felt at all levels within the upcoming years in the strive to curb youth employability issues on the continent in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular.