Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Youth unemployment: A national challenges with no solutions in sight

Writing in a 2016 research study titled:” Improving youth Employment in Botswana: The need for evidence based policy and programme development”, the researchers, Keitseope Nthomang and Kabo Diraditsile bluntly decry that”policy and programmes in response to youth unemployment in Botswana have hitherto not produced the desired results despite sustained political support reflected by massive government spending on youth development programmes, number of programmes initiated and youth enrolled.

“However, government has often been criticized for spending funds on short term under-employment and indecent jobs, quick fixes and unsustainable programnmes with little impact on job creation”.

According to the authors, in recent times, the world has witnessed an unprecedented problem of youth unemployment. Consequently, a compendium of studies have been conducted in both the northern and southern contexts on a wide array of social policy issues and resultant programme responses to address the problem.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2013 acknowledged that youth unemployment rates continued to rise despite concerted efforts to reverse the trend. In Botswana, available data from various sources exists about the magnitude of the problem, and from these surveys/studies, it can be said relative to adults, “the majority of young people remain. It was, perhaps, in response to the above concerns that the Botswana government has initiated and established numerous programmes to deal with the plight of the youth. Throughout succeeding national development plans, and related national strategic documents, government has sought to address and improve prospects of youth employment”.

It is observed by the authors that in 1996, government formally adopted the first national Policy on Youth, and by doing so, if mainly for pragmatic rather than political reasons, the government recognized that the youth are disadvantaged and need urgent attention.

“However, this recognition did not translate into creating sustainable employment opportunities and improving quality of life for the youth in a meaningful way. Instead, there have been increasing concerns that the Youth Policy has not fully achieved its objectives”, it is lamented.

The study reports that like other African countries, Botswana has not been spared the problem of youth unemployment. In 2011, out of about 2 024 904 people living in the country, about 941 371 or 46.5% were youth at the time of enumeration according to Statistics Botswana. Nationally, data gleaned from the various sources show that Botswana’s official unemployment rate is high, ranging between 20 5 and 30% indicating that the majority of youth are unemployed.

During the 2018 State of the Nation address, the president admitted that government has been struggling to find different ways to increase employment opportunities for the youth with little success.

The researchers are also worried that youth unemployment leads to increased incidence of poverty, depression and stress, all linked to lower life expectancy and poor health. There is evidence to suggest that unemployment early in life can significantly reduce an individual’s future economic opportunities.

Further, these studies have consistently observed that a prolonged spell of unemployment early in a young person’s life can have long term devastating effects on lifetime prospects; potential lower earnings through life; reduced health status and threat of social exclusion.

“In Botswana, high rates of unemployment mean that a large number of the youth are jobless and as such economically inactive. The effect of this is not only reduced productivity and a decline in gross domestic product (GDP) but also increased economic costs to the state due to increased social welfare costs”, it is argued in other cited researches.

The study also finds that one of the main reasons for the high unemployment is a growing mismatch between supply and demand of skills. Youth unemployment is essentially a structural problem. On the supply side of labour, training institutions produce students who lack basic skills to meet the requirements of the job market. In Botswana, for example, there is an over-supply of raining for white collar jobs, at the expense of vocational skills such as in agriculture and engineering according to the Human Resources Development Council (HRDC).

Thus, many graduates have no jobs and are on the street because they lack work experience, practical skills and information about the market on which to base their career choices. On the demand side, slow economic growth has meant that the economy cannot generate adequate jobs for its young people. Self-employment is also a challenge because youth lack entrepreneurial skills to create their own jobs. In a nutshell, “graduates who often lack work experience find themselves being trapped in a vicious cycle of youth unemployment” and as a result, “unemployed young people are prone to poverty, risk lower wages and future career prospects”.

In conclusion, the study found that youth unemployment has a complex structural basis. The paper argued that the search for long lasting solutions must be anchored on research, monitoring and evaluation, youth empowerment through skills-based programmes, increased collaboration and partnerships, and creation of strong institutional structures and coordination mechanisms for effective implementation of youth empowerment programmes.

Another study titled: “Unemployed Youth and Self-employment in Botswana” also of 2016 by Latang Sechele challenges policy makers to ponder strategies towards the creation of decent employment , training, wage employment, work experience and self-employment and their inter-linkages as a way of addressing youth unemployment in the country.

Sechele posits that international organizations and policy makers in developing countries , including Botswana, suggest that unemployed young people should seek to create their own jobs by engaging in self-employment activities, particularly in the informal sector.

According to Sechele, a review of literature on youth labour market in Botswana reveals that despite high levels of youth unemployment in the country, “very few of the youth are engaged in self-employment. This is in spite of a number of policies and self-employment schemes such as the citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) and the Youth Development Fund (YDF) that have been initiated by government to support self-employment”.

It is urged in the study that given the youth labour market situation in Africa, where formal jobs are no longer guaranteed, attention is being paid to promotion of self-employment among the youth as a complementary employment strategy. ILO is in support of entrepreneurship and self-employment as a way of tackling the problem of unemployment. It recognizes that this is a new development as self-employment research has been conducted on the model of the adults, paying little attention to youth and calls for further research.

Entrepreneurship and self-employment have a number of benefits in that they serve as a way of creating employment for those who start project6s and employ other youth who might be marginalized in society; boost the local economy by way of providing needed goods as well as creating linkages between the formal and informal economies; encourage innovation among young people; and seek to promote young people’s self-worth in society. Moreover, self-employment is understood to contribute to start-up of families by young people as well as fostering their independence from parents.

The study concluded that a large number of unemployed youth are disadvantaged in the labour market due to their low levels of skilled human capital and work experience which make it difficult for them to enter the wage self-employment sectors. Unemployment is also attributed to indecent employment opportunities and not only the absence of formal jobs. Moreover, it is not feasible for young people to enter self-employment directly from unemployment.

The study further recommended increased investment and access to specialized training and skills formation activities in tandem with broader education expansion efforts to improve the youth employment prospects.

“Labour market policies, programmes and statutes need to be reviewed periodically to ensure their harmonization as well as removal of undue restrictions that lower unemployed young people’s chances of entering the labour market for wage employment and self-employment. The lowering of the of the majority age from 21 years to 18 years would help to lessen age and legal constraints to self-employment entry. There is need to come up with affirmative action strategies to ensure that young people are given special dispensation in employment as well as allocation of resources and access to facilities that support self-employment such as land, government market owned stalls, premises and finance”, the authors of the study advise.

 The United Nations System in Botswana in 2007 asserted that although there are other factors besides education that affect youth unemployment, the level of youth unemployment in the country indicates that “education is not sufficiently preparing school leavers for the world of work – whether in terms of skills, attitudes and/or expectations. Botswana has to address these challenges because the high levels of youth unemployment have wider social, psychological and economic implications, as well as political stability implications”.  

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