Youth @ Work: five pathways for change

24 August 2022

How to address the missing job crisis through green and digital jobs, while assuring that no one is left behind? Using the latest knowledge base on the topic, the recently published evidence synthesis paper series provides a number of recommendations that may help flag potential solutions. They were discussed in the webinar series Youth @ Work and summarized in a two-pager, from which we present five key insights.


  1. Framing the issue: from youth employment crisis to missing job crisis

The issue of youth employment in Africa needs to be framed accurately to design effective strategies. The mainstream narrative is that the responsibility and capacity to find and create employment lies mainly with youths. But in fact, Africa’s ‘‘youth employment’’ crisis is, in many ways, actually foremost a ‘‘missing jobs’’ crisis. The economy is growing without generating employment for youth, which makes it a ‘‘jobless’’ economic growth. Reframing the mainstream narrative from a youth employment crisis to a missing jobs crisis creates a more accurate understanding of the problem and is therefore a pre-requisite for change.


  1. Structural transformation: invest in small and big enterprises

Addressing the ‘‘missing jobs crisis’’ leads us to consider structural transformation as one of the key strategies to address systemic hurdles to private sector development. Structural economic transformation seeks to capitalise on the potential of small- and medium-sized enterprises to create employment for young people in Africa. SMEs are estimated to provide up to 80% of jobs across the continent and contribute strongly to economic and social development in society. Policies that stimulate (small and medium) enterprise development are therefore essential for improving youth employment in Africa.  


  1. Digitalization & the future of work

Africa is going digital – and when digitalisation is sufficiently inclusive, it creates a world of opportunities for African youths to acquire jobs. However, the high cost of internet data and unreliable and expensive electricity provision means that especially the most marginalised groups in society may be excluded from the potential benefits of the digital revolution. Next to this, lack of social protection for digital labour is a problem. One of the promises of the digital economy for youth employment is related to ‘crowdwork’, a form of employment that leverages internet-based platforms to provide services or products. It is worth noting that these crowd-workers are misclassified as independent contractors and are often excluded from existing labour regulations and social protection, making platform workers extremely vulnerable and often exploited. Such challenges reveal the complexity of providing and safeguarding decent and inclusive employment within the digitalised world. To make youth employment truly inclusive, the divide must be bridged between those who have access to digital technologies and digital labour opportunities, and those who don’t.


  1. Green jobs and agricultural transformation

Despite the many opportunities presented by digitalisation and the digital economy, agriculture is expected to remain the largest job-supplier in the coming decades – though many jobs within the sector will be transformed to respond to climate change. Projections estimate that around half of Africa’s employment opportunities remain in rural areas until at least 2030. In the meantime, agricultural livelihoods are increasingly threatened by climate change. Climate action is therefore closely linked to the employment prospects of youth in Africa and the transition to a greener economy is more urgent. This transition is anticipated to create “green jobs” which is widely heralded as a solution to the missing jobs crisis in Africa. However, a green transformation of the economy will also displace existing jobs. The green transformation must therefore also be a ‘‘just transition’’, implemented carefully and inclusively, with social protection schemes, re-skilling and upskilling initiatives, as well as other policies in place for those who lose their jobs during the transition.


  1. Meaningful youth participation: the crosscutting pathway

Meaningful youth engagement needs to go beyond tokenism towards meaningful participation. Marginalized groups must be supported specifically to overcome their particular barriers to meaningful participation. Youth participation can take different forms, ranging from information provision to consultation, shared decision-making and co-management, all the way to autonomy. The nature and quality of participation determine the extent to which young people’s voices are heard. The notion of nothing about them, without them’ cannot be stressed more. Efforts to stimulate youth employment should capitalise on youth agency and allow them to drive the changes.


Interested to learn more? Visit INCLUDE’s Youth @ Work webpage


The webinar series Youth @ Work was organised in the frame of the partnership “Boosting Decent Employment for Africa’s youth”, a joint effort of INCLUDE, the International Development Research Centre and the International Labour Organization, under the umbrella of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth.


Dr Maya Turolla

INCLUDE Knowledge Manager - Knowledge Platform for Inclusive Development Policies - African Studies Centre - Leiden University

Ninja Lacey

INCLUDE Knowledge Manager - Knowledge Platform for Inclusive Development Policies; Knowledge Broker - The Broker

Year of publication

24 August 2022