More education but fewer jobs: a worrying disconnect


From 5-7 April 2019, I represented the Ghana programme of Emerging Public Leaders (EPL) at the 2019 Ibrahim Governance Weekend (IGW), the flagship event of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Ahead of the Forum, I was thrilled to join 80 other young people from across the length and breadth of Africa to participate in the Now Generation Forum (NGF), which seeks to gather youth perspectives on the themes being discussed at the Ibrahim Forum. This year’s theme focused on African migrations.

Globally, African migrations have been a major issue in the spotlight over the years. The Foundation asserts that Africa’s majority, the youth, should be involved in decision-making processes that will affect their future. This, however, ties into a bigger discussion on what motivates Africa’s youth to migrate to other countries in search of better opportunities.

According to a report published by the British Council titled, Can higher education solve Africa’s job crisis? policy analysis has pointed to the need to invest in a highly skilled workforce for a country to achieve long-term economic growth. In the context of the knowledge economy, improving a country’s educational system has become particularly critical. In the case of Ghana, in recent years, the country’s efforts in advancing access to education – which has spanned decades of policy reform and government expenditure – has gained international recognition. These accomplishments are highlighted in a report published by the World Education News & Reviews. This report states that, “the country’s youth literacy rate, for instance, jumped from 71 percent in 2000 to 86 percent in 2010. Ghanaian children now attend school in higher rates than their counterparts in many other African countries, as well as in developing nations in other world regions. While more than 84 percent of children participated in elementary education in 2017, the gross enrolment rate (GER) in secondary education increased from 57 percent in 2012 to 73 percent in 2017, compared with 42 percent in Nigeria, 45.5 percent in Pakistan and 65 percent in Jordan”.

However, as outlined in a paper discussing the challenges of youth unemployment and joblessness in Ghana, these issues persist as a major socio-economic and political problem within the country and around the continent. This paper further highlights that Ghana’s growth performance, although impressive, has not translated into the creation of sufficient jobs for the rapid expansion of the labour force. Employment growth over the years has been lethargic, particularly in the formal sector, resulting in college graduate youths accepting jobs that are beneath their skillset or their pay grade. It is estimated that 18 million jobs are needed annually to absorb new entrants into the labour force in sub-Saharan Africa alone, but currently only three million jobs are being created.

According to the 2019 Ibrahim Forum Report, unemployment is considered by far the most important problem by African youth. This calls for African governments to re-evaluate current employment policies and take actionable steps towards creating an enabling environment for the continent’s majority: the youth. Unemployment, unfavourable working conditions and underemployment remain the major driving forces for migration. African governments have to allow free movement and prevent delays in processing goods and services within the continent, to create millions of jobs, improve infrastructure, improve public-private partnerships and maintain stable macroeconomics for a friendly environment to do business.

Ghana’s educational system should teach skills for the future, including entrepreneurship, environmentally friendly, smart agriculture, and vocational and technical skills for the informal sector. This is necessary as in many other African countries, governments are struggling to provide employment in the formal sector for the teeming youth population. Agriculture should be made the power bank for the continent. This backbone should be made attractive to the youth through government interventions and the use of modern technologies. In this way, we can create employment opportunities for many young people.

I will end by paraphrasing what Dr Graça Machel said at the NGF:


It is high time the youth of the continent started acting and taking their place. The youth need to get involved in making our continent a better place. The youth should not sit and wait for the educational structure to change before acquiring the skills needed to function in this era.

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