An important variable in determining the economic growth or development of a country is in how it affects the quality of life of the people within the given geographical context. More importantly, an even economy is one not tilted in favour of upper class, lower class dichotomy or split unevenly between its young and older generations but one observed to contain equal opportunities for exploration to all.
Increasingly, in Africa and world over, the role of young men and women in the growth of the economies of their individual country has been recognised and accepted as indubitable. However, this recognition has not necessary translated to specific government policies aimed at accommodating this agile and passionate group within the economic blueprint of their countries. In today’s Nigeria, twice as many youths are unemployed than adults.
Africa has the fastest growing and most youthful population in the world. Over 40% of sub-saharan Africa population is under the age of 15. It has become increasingly clear that insufficient attention has been paid to the creation of employment opportunities for young people. Nigeria’s population reached 182 million this year, with more than half its people under 30 years of age, putting a severe strain on a nation suffering from a slowing economy and declining revenue.
As Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria is witnessing a growing youth bulge, with those under 14 years accounting for more than 40 percent of its citizens.
As part of a strategy to sustain economic growth and support higher education, a bipartisan commitment to investment in apprenticeship, internships and work-study programs proven to equip the youth for the world of work is highly needed.
DEFINITION OF A YOUTH
According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English New Edition, youth is the period of time when someone is young, especially the period when someone is a teenager.
A youth has been classified within different age categories across the board, but according to the United Nations, for statistical purposes, a youth is defined as a person between the ages of 15-24, without prejudice to other Member States.
The definition of youth perhaps changes with circumstances, especially with the changes in demographic, financial, economic and socio-cultural settings. Other age classifications give a wider range bracket of 18-35.
CHALLENGES FACING THE YOUTH IN A DIFFICULT/EMERGENCY ECONOMY
According to Sophie Karmasin of Australia’s Federal Ministry for Families & Youth, the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 Agenda depends on empowering young people. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated youth unemployment at 70 million, a number that is colosally high, and that marginalized men and women risked being either perpetrators or victims of violence.
New graduates are faced with the dilemma of employers asking for years of experience as prerequisites of employment. Most of these graduates go on to spend years in unemployed limbo, thus creating an experience gap and a loss of opportunity to acquire further skill-sets in work environment for better opportunities.
With a few exceptions, this unemployed numbers resort to crime. The few who engage in entrepreneurial exercises often come out drained by unfavourable policies and an unfriendly market system.
Another challenge facing the youth is the issue of inequality. Around the world, about 500 million young people today are living on less than $2 dollars a day. Last year, being 2016, was the first year since the global economic crisis in which youth employment had grown, thus stressing that inequality emanated from lack of access to opportunities.
There are also crippling challenges such as insecurity, lack of access to credit facilities, poor education, and an unstable political climate, usually all combining to forestall any effort at self-sufficiency or growth by youths.
These challenges have a direct correlation to youths becoming violent, restive and fraudulent, among other things. This in turn directly impacts negatively on the economy as a restive, criminal-minded youth population is a threat to a viable, stable and sustainable economy.
THE GOOD NEWS
In spite of burgeoning challenges however, Nigerian youths are finding ways to survive, and even thrive in a ruthless economy, as necessity becomes the mother of invention. WeCyclers founder Bilikiss Adebiyi, is an example of how young Nigerians are innovating ways to provide solutions to problems, while turning a profit. WeCyclers is a social enterprise that offers waste collection and recycling services to the Lagos communities, particularly informal settlements/rural areas.
Young people are in recent times, making strides in the agriculture, entertainment, and technology sectors, forging opportunities with minimal resources.
There are others such as Mike Essien, founder of Hotels.ng. Mark Essien, a software and mobile development expert, epitomises how you can transform a dedicated passion for technology to a company that redefined the hotel booking process in Nigeria. Bankole Cardoso, is the CEO, Easy Taxi Nigeria, a technology driven enterprise that makes convenient the booking of taxis, anywhere and anytime in Nigeria. The list goes on with the likes of Linda Ikeji of the Linda Ikeji Groups, Yasmin Belo-Osagie: Co-Founder, She Leads Africa, Raphael Afaedor and Gbolahan Fagbure: Founders, Supermart.ng and so on.
What this tells us is that there is yet a way to reap of the many benefits of engaging youths in the creative process of developing a thriving economic model. The benefits are indeed innumerable.
The burgeoning problems highlighter above only have to be met with firm solutions driven by political will. Let’s briefly look at some possible solutions.
For economies to be more inclusive for youth, it is important to create opportunities and programs specifically tailored for the young demographic, that are not only theoretical but also practical, involving experienced practitioners.
Quality education at all levels should be made as accessible as possible for every citizen, to maximize the platform for vertical mobility. Increased investment in technology will spur growth as young people take advantage of innovative technologies that will greatly improve their education and quality of life.
Economies can become more inclusive by listening to youth, and by providing the necessary channels for young people to be connected and effectively participate in the socio-political fabric of society. The expansion of information and communication technologies offer opportunities to promote inclusion and expand access to knowledge and participation of youth in public life. There is a universal desire on the part of youth for communication.
Making it happen will foster opportunities, innovation, diversity, and economic inclusion.
Human capital investments and other social services provided to mothers and children in the developing world are critically important.
These policies could spell the difference between successful and productive young entrepreneurs and workers for years to come, otherwise posterity will struggle with the challenges of high inequality and lack of sustainability.
Moreso, sound policies should be based on indepth understanding of specific contexts. Policy makers should also pay more attention to disadvantaged or potentially vulnerable groups; female, disabled, indigeneous, minority ethnic, poor urban youth.
Conclusively, Africa’s and the world’s youth in general represents both an opportunity and a challenge for the continent. They are a potential human resource base for development if they are nurtured and productive, but can be a source of conflict and social tension if neglected. Providing youth with the education and skills they need to participate in the productive economy and involving them in policy design is key for their inclusion in national development.
Also without a doubt, investing in youth education, skills training and workforce development pays for itself in the long-and short-term in today’s globalized economy.
Dr. Ajulo is the Principal Partner, Kayode Ajulo & Co. Castle of Law, Founder/Executive Director, Egalitarian Mission, Africa and was National Secretary, Labour Party.