Africa’s Youth Unemployment Crisis Is a Global Problem – Are Young Professionals' Potential Being Wasted?

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Youth is Africa’s greatest asset, and its greatest challenge. Africa’s youth population is rapidly growing and expected to double to over 830 million by 2050 (3). In spite of this growth, a variety of factors have contributed to Africa leading the world in youth unemployment.

With the spread of modernization across the continent, Africans have been trying to escape lower socioeconomic status by assimilating directly into white collar jobs. Yet, factoring in the absence of economic infrastructure and a sustainable middle class, as well as the lack of government assistance or distinctive support for this type of work, the unemployment problem persists (2,3).

It is common for bright-minded and academically inclined students to study high-skill jobs like nursing, engineering, law school, etc. However, due to poor infrastructure implementation, young professionals face limited opportunities to integrate into the skilled labor economy and showcase their capabilities. This problem has led Africa to become the staggering world leader in unemployment for age groups 15 to 35 (1). Unfortunately, it is common to see licensed nurses or humanities and social sciences graduates in transportation or taxi services, or passionate engineers hustling in the streets of the market to sell food or clothing (1).

The invariable focus on a handful of high-skill careers has left most African young professionals in a cycle wherein they possess a surplus of talent in certain career sectors to the exclusion of careers necessary for the general working economy, thereby exacerbating the unemployment issue (5). In turn, graduates are left with minimal to no relevant work experience whilst having dedicated years to attaining degrees they cannot easily use. Once graduates do receive jobs in their discipline, many of the skills they originally learned have become obsolete, further hindering development across the continent (3,4).

In an attempt to remedy this unemployment issue, local governments have taken the initiative to create skill development programs for young people to develop tools for higher necessity careers (4). These programs prepare students to work in desired industries, yet many Africans report that these programs are mismanaged and are simply not enough to secure reliable work. Even after the developmental programs are complete, many students find they did not increase their chance of hireability (4,5).

The African Development Bank reports that while ten to twelve million youth enter the workforce in Africa each year, only three million formal jobs are created annually (1). As there is no governmental social protection, the majority of Africa’s youth fall into three different categories: one-third of the youth are unemployed and discouraged, another third are vulnerably employed, and only one in six is in wage employment (1,3). Youth face roughly double the unemployment rate of adults. While there is significant variation by country in some low income nations, over half of youth in the labor force are unemployed (1).

Africa’s youth employment is a global problem. As youth migration to developed countries persists, unrest builds, terrorism arises, and foreign investors cannot be assured of peaceful business climates in Africa, “as poverty and inequality fuel looting, insurgencies, and terrorist activity on the continent” (1,3). The consequences of youth unemployment in Africa are pervasive and severe: unemployment translates to poorer living conditions, fuels migration out of Africa, and contributes to conflict on the continent itself (2,3). Above all, youth unemployment constitutes a failure to capitalize on one of the continent’s greatest and most unique assets for growth: its large and growing population of talented young people.

In an effort to resolve young professional employment woes, African governments want to introduce policies that shift the educational focus from passing exams to exploring actual application to society. Governments are planning to create jobs related to all professional fields to stabilize the youth (4). They aim to address demand challenges, while making opportunities available to youth across socio-economic strata, rural-urban divides, and gender and age groups. In terms of supply, governments are working to improve human capital development and better equip youth with skills that match labor market needs (1,4). By creating stronger connections between employers and talent while also directing skill development, governments will be able to create an environment that fosters the youth. In addition, this builds an economy that can sustain its strong population growth and usher the continent into a new era of modernization (3).

Works Cited

  1. Africa Is Also Young: We Have 420 Million Young -
  2. “Africa's Jobless Youth Cast a Shadow over Economic Growth | Africa Renewal.” United Nations, United Nations,
  3. Donkor, Audrey. “Africa's Youth Unemployment Crisis Is a Global Problem.” Foreign Policy, 19 Oct. 2021,
  4. Facing the Growing Unemployment Challenges in Africa, 20 Jan. 2016,
  5. Stoddard, Ed. “Business Maverick: Horror Statistics: Sa's Shocking Unemployment Rate Remains Unchanged.” Daily Maverick, 11 Feb. 2020,
  6. Pexels.

More posts by Sarah Sackey.
Africa’s Youth Unemployment Crisis Is a Global Problem – Are Young Professionals' Potential Being Wasted?
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