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Tackling youth employment in Africa


African Ministers of Labour and Employment launched the Joint Youth Employment Initiative during the 9th Ordinary Session of the AU Labour and Social Affairs Commission in Addis-Ababa in April 2013. Later that year, in September in Addis-Ababa, four partner organizations signed a Letter of Intent that commits technical and financial resources to launch the proposed activities in the framework of the initiative.

The Joint Youth Employment Initiative originated with the commitment the African Development Bank’s Senior Management made to address the challenge of youth unemployment in Africa along with the African Union’s (AU) decision to tackle youth unemployment in the continent.

During the AU’s 17th Ordinary Session held in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, in July 2011, the Heads of States asked the Bank to work with the African Union Commission, regional economic communities, and other international development partners to develop a comprehensive pact to reduce youth unemployment, with strong ownership by governments, the private sector, and youth organizations. 

Despite the numerous ongoing interventions on youth employment in Africa, high youth unemployment and underemployment remain a problem. There are also issues concerning youth employment that have not been well addressed, including:

  • Weak implementation of commitments, plans, and declarations;
  • Efforts that are fragmented and uncoordinated;
  • Scarcity of knowledge, information, and lessons learned;
  • Absence of regular, reliable, and harmonized labour market data on youth employment;
  • Poor participation levels of youths in employment policies and programs;
  • Lack of involvement of the private sector;
  • Insubstantial focus on the informal sector; and
  • Inadequate demand-side responses.

Based on these gaps, partners have adopted a two-step approach to put the Joint Youth Employment Initiative into action. First is mapping and analyzing all policies, stakeholders, and instruments that are currently being directed toward youth employment at the country level and capitalizing on what exists. Second is developing and implementing the action plans.

The added value of this initiative lies in the comparative advantages of its partner institutions and the two-step approach. This is seen at five levels:

  • The diagnosis and mapping exercise at the country level;
  • Changes at the political level through intergovernmental frameworks and the commitment of the decision-makers in countries;
  • Knowledge production and sharing according to the experience of the partners;
  • Implementation of innovative projects; and
  • Impact evaluation.

The Bank has undertaken studies and activities targeted at youth employment. Examples include the note prepared by the Joint Youth Employment Initiative team to provide background for the 2012 African Economic Outlook, which focused on youth employment; the pilot exercise of labour-based job creation under the Burkina Faso–Togo regional road project approved by the Board in June 2012; the preparation of flagship reports on youth employment for several African countries, including Ethiopia, Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa, and Tunisia; the analysis of the Morocco education system, with an emphasis on efficiency and employment-related challenges; the Souk At-Tanmia project to boost youth employment in Tunisia (and in Togo in the near future); and the translation and printing of the AU white book on youth employment, which was distributed during the latest AU Summit of Heads of States in Addis Ababa in January 2013.

Moreover the Bank and the International Labour Organization, as the operational institutions for the initiative, have started several joint activities, including the mapping and diagnostic exercise of the labour markets in Burkina Faso and Senegal; the Bank’s staff capacity-building on mainstreaming youth employment in operations and policies; and the evaluation of the impact of the Bank’s operations on employment.

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