Last month I visited ICCO’s work in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso. All three countries have a very young population with 70-80% of the population under 35 years of age. Youth unemployment is a big challenge in the region.
In Mali I attended a roundtable which ICCO organized on youth employment. One of the main conclusions was that young people are looking for work on the one hand, and at the same time companies are looking for people. There is thus a mismatch. How come?
Supporting young entrepreneurs
Firstly, there are young women and men who want to become entrepreneurs but who don’t have the access to the means to do so. Think of adequate access to trainings, finance, internet, infrastructure and business support services.
Entrepreneurial opportunities lie specifically in the agricultural sector. According to the World Bank, Africa has more than enough virgin farmland to sustain the growth of the agricultural sector. But at the same time agriculture is something which is still carried out mostly by families and communities on a small scale, mainly for subsistence farming. What’s more, Mali has an extremely low agricultural mechanization rate. Most opportunities within agriculture thus lie in taking agriculture to the next level.
This can be done by supporting youth in setting up agribusinesses. There are huge opportunities in applying new technologies, such as ICT for better weather forecasts, precision agriculture and access to markets. For example, our sesame project funded by Danida uses ICT to improve product traceability, thus helping farmers access markets.
In this way, agriculture can become an attractive sector for young women and men. But therefore they need access to resources such as business support and finance. This can be given through business incubators, like we do in close collaboration with Truvalu.
Match supply and demand
Secondly, there are youth looking for wage employment which they can’t find. But at the same time there are sectors which have a high demand for people, such as construction and office work. What we see is that these companies even hire employees from other countries in the region, because they can’t find the qualified people in their own country. This indicates a mismatch between the education of young people and the demand of the market. This is a more general trend: in Mali we see that youth that pursue their studies after high school mainly focus on humanities while technical, scientific and engineering fields are neglected.
So what should be done to find a solution for this mismatch? A pragmatic approach could be a solution. That means we should not only focus on formal education but instead focus on short trainings for youth.
In West Africa we are already implementing projects on youth employment. The project ‘Youth employment creates opportunities here in Mali’ (EJOM), funded by the EU Trust Fund for Africa, aims to train 8,620 young people and to create 6,472 jobs in a.o. the agrifood sector, by giving business support and stipends to youth to start their own business. And in our Program for Accountable Local Governance we increase youth participation in decision making.
These are just two examples of the projects we run in West Africa, and we’re always willing to talk to partners to see how we can join forces and work even better on youth employment.