This blog calls for the streamlining of labour market information for a vigorous economic recovery benefiting young women and men. Some of the measures implemented to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have severely disrupted the operations of traditionally labour-intensive sectors for youth such as catering, accommodation, and transport. Leveraging their dynamism, young people have had to explore alternatives to their usual livelihoods, especially in contexts where financial support from the state was either absent or difficult to access. That begs for a reflection on labour market information and support systems for young people as they strive to adjust to ever-evolving African labour markets.
Research supported by the International Development Research Centre points to profound changes in African labour markets. Evidence shows that psycho-social and emotional skills are essential for youth seeking better jobs. Practical skills from technical and vocational training are just as important for a successful transition to professional life. An experiment implemented in Egypt by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (JPAL) suggests that actually, it is the combination of psycho-social, emotional, general and technical skills that improves the labour market prospects of young job-seekers.
Limited opportunities for decent employment clearly stems from the region's narrow formal labour markets. But it is also common for youth unemployment to coexist with job vacancies. This could be a manifestation of the well-known skills mismatch issue. It could also be that, once instilled with all necessary soft and technical skills, young job seekers are not aware of existing opportunities. Both arguments speak to informational bottlenecks and beg for a proactive approach to streamline labour market information systems across the board for efficiency gains.
Research supported by IDRC in Egypt, Uganda and Francophone Africa shows that labour market information matters. Various stakeholders can leverage this evidence to ease the transition of young people into professional life, their mobility in the labour market or boost their income.
In Egypt, young people aged 15 to 29 account for 87% of the unemployed. Research by J-PAL shows that youth enrollment in job search assistance programs, including short courses, can be significantly improved by merely communicating on employment prospects in any given sector. Such trainings increase the probability of finding a decent job by ILO definition, and lead to higher labour income, especially when they combine soft and technical skills.
Early results from another experiment corroborate the importance of quality information in the context of job fairs. It builds on the notion that the more comprehensive the information provided to young job seekers, the higher the job fair attendance, the bigger the number of filled vacancies and the better the quality of the match.
The role of information is further documented in another research with public employment services across five francophone African countries. Evidence from Cameroon, Chad, Côte d'Ivoire, the Republic of the Congo and Senegal shows that limited awareness among the target population drives the limited use of available support services: informal channels through third parties are the primary source of information with 40 % of the respondents, whereas formal communication channels (media, written press, etc.) only comes second with 38% of the respondents. Yet, more than 80% of the beneficiaries are of the view that participation in an employment support program increases their chances of finding a job. Results also show that young job seekers who received support with their job search are more likely to get written contracts (70.43% against 54.27% for those not receiving any kind of support), with a higher pay. Evidence also points to important gender issues. Fewer young women than men engage public employment services (37% against 62.92%).
An ongoing experiment in Uganda investigates the benefits of mentoring and coaching for career choice, labour market expectations and trajectories of young people. This will add to existing evidence on the importance of entrepreneurship mentoring on youth entrepreneurial intentions specifically.
IDRC supported research shows how critical it is to provide the most concise and comprehensive information as possible to young people on labour market dynamics to ease their transition into professional life.
To promote a vigorous and inclusive post-pandemic recovery, policy-makers should aim for strategic communication on job counseling and career support services, job vacancies, and labour market trends. It might also be important to build awareness on youth skills sets, including youth-led start-ups and innovations undergoing incubation. Labour market trends inform youth training and career choices. But available skills and competencies also inform private sector investment decisions, and therefore job creation. Awareness campaigns through social media and TV shows combined with engagement with youth groups at the community level could go a long way in addressing some of the labour market information issues.
This article is part of the Decent Jobs for Youth Blog Series: Youth Rights & Voices. The Blog Series highlights the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young women and men in the world of work and discusses action-oriented policy responses and solutions. If you would like to comment or contribute, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.