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School-to-work transition

Does investing in education pay off for African youth?

In sub-Saharan Africa, a stable, well-paid job is often an impossible dream, even for educated young people, according to an ILO report.

News | 12 March 2014
GENEVA (ILO News) – An ILO report analysing survey results in eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa shows that while youth unemployment rates increase with the level of education, it is the young people with less education who are disadvantaged in terms of wages and access to stable employment.

The less educated are more likely to be self-employed or accept lower wages. In all but one of the countries surveyed - Malawi - a young person with the lowest level of education is the least likely to be unemployed.

Unemployment among university graduates is a growing concern, as the supply of qualified youth exceeds the capacity of the modern economy to produce the professional jobs they expect. Enterprises increasingly expect new hires to have high levels of education but are also reluctant to hire recent graduates, citing their lack of technical expertise and work experience.

But that doesn’t mean students should drop out of university. “While unemployment may be higher among the better educated, the results clearly show that investing in education brings positive returns to youth in terms of wages and access to the ‘better’ jobs,” according to the report titled “Labour market transitions of young women and men in sub-Saharan Africa.”

For millions of young people in sub-Saharan Africa, even the more educated ones, a stable, well-paid job remains an impossible dream. Informality and vulnerable employment is the reality for the vast majority of young workers in the region, the report said.

“The lack of prospects for secure employment, along with increased education, access to modern technology and exposure to the perceived advantages of developed economies, create the risk of frustration among youth,” the report said. “This, in turn, can culminate in political unrest and external migration.”

On average, more than 50 per cent of the youth in the eight countries are working, but the quality of employment is often poor, making it difficult for the youth to make the most of their economic potential.

Pervasive informality

Informal employment is the standard condition among youth in all eight countries.

Seven in ten young workers are in self-employment and even among wage and salaried workers – the category that typically reflects the least vulnerability – few workers are covered by a written contract, almost half the employment contracts are temporary, and less than one-fifth of young employees receive additional entitlements such as paid annual or sick leave.

The report also says that more than half the young workers are undereducated for the work they do.

The School-to-work transition survey (SWTS) was conducted in Benin, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, the United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia among men and women in the 15-29 age group. In all, SWT surveys were conducted in 28 countries with national statistics offices as part of the ILO “Work4Youth” partnership with The MasterCard Foundation.

The evidence from the surveys demonstrates that the region needs a strategy to improve its labour market outcomes, particularly for youth, the report says. Close attention should be paid to the following areas of action:
  • Design macroeconomic policy to promote job growth, especially within the agricultural sector.
  • Ensure educational access for all and prevention of early school departures.
  • Improve working conditions by ensuring equal treatment for and rights of young workers.
  • Support employers in taking active part in the creation of decent jobs for young people.
  • Enhance the role of institutions that deal with employment/unemployment issues and improve the collection and dissemination of labour market information.
  • Strengthen support mechanisms to informal enterprises.
  • Promote bipartite and tripartite cooperation on youth employment to yield better employment outcomes.