Youth Employment—A Fundamental Challenge for African Economies


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In Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s sprawling capital, Mulu Warsa has found a formal-sector job as a factory worker thanks to her high school education. In Niamey, a city at the heart of the Sahel region, Mohamed Boubacar is a young apprentice training to be a carpenter. And in Sagrosa, a village in Kenya’s remote Tana Delta district, Felix Roa, who works on a family farm and runs a small shop, dreams of a better life if he can find the money to expand the business and move to a more urban area. His family is too poor to support him through secondary school.
Mulu, Mohamed, and Felix belong to a vibrant new generation of young Africans who make up the largest share of the population in most countries south of the Sahara. In fact, while populations in most parts of the world are aging, Africa is now by far the world’s “youngest continent”. Although many argue about whether this strikingly youthful demographic is an opportunity or a challenge, in fact both are true. And the large share of youth in Africa’s population has profound implications for individuals, families, as well as for entire economies.
Increasing Job Opportunities for Young People in Africa

Along a path that is beset with challenges—yet alive with possibilities—young people in Africa are fighting their way forward in virtually every corner of the vast continent. Increasingly connected to each other, especially in urban areas, these young men and women have high expectations. Given the right attention from governments, they could collectively be an amazing resource for the region as economies try to rely less on extractive industries and diversify in the manufacturing, services and agricultural sectors.
Jobs are at the top of the agenda everywhere. While urban youth tend to be more vocal and visible in their job-seeking, particularly in the small but fast-growing formal wage sector, millions of youth in rural and semi-urban areas are also trying hard to find better-paid work to improve their living standards. There is much that governments can do to hasten a brighter future for young people, whether it is to encourage formal sector growth and make it easier for firms to do business, or to recognize, support, and nurture the large informal sector that will continue to employ the majority of youth in the near future. Beyond addressing simple unemployment—an issue that gets its fair share of coverage—Africa must address the great challenge of underemployment.
I was a co-author—along with a team from across the World Bank—of a newly released report “Youth Employment in Sub-Saharan Africa” that attempts to take up this challenge (  The report points out that youth employment is by no means a simple or one-dimensional challenge that can be solved by merely increasing training opportunities for youth. While this remains important—for instance, training was critical for Mohamed in Niamey—governments must also urgently address the quality of education, nutrition, and basic health care, while also removing a whole range of obstacles that hinder progress in agriculture, household enterprises, and manufacturing. Education was the distinguishing element for Mulu in Addis Ababa, together with the existence of a formal employer. Financial inclusion, however, continues to be an insurmountable challenge for Felix in Sagrosa.
Collectively we—policymakers, development partners, private sector visionaries, and citizens—must push for change and redouble our efforts to meet the expectations of today’s youth, so that they can take advantage of the opportunities that will come their way as economies grow. They cannot do so without access to high quality education, finance, land, and technology, and without supporting infrastructure and regional trade opportunities that would benefit the private sector and generate productive jobs. In short, reforms that span a wide range of interconnected issues are profoundly important for young Africans as well as for Africa’s destiny in the decades ahead.


Deon Filmer

Co-Director of the WDR 2018 and Lead Economist

Join the Conversation

Africa News
March 11, 2014

Youth in Africa is more aware now. Long way to go people!

February 03, 2014

Youth in Africa has changed the attitude of big companies by starting their own business and become competitors..and some hire few of their peers

January 30, 2014

its very important to make huge efforts for reducing unemployment..

Amadou "Chico" Cissoko
July 05, 2014

I believe that the youth of Africa will become the active change-agents that will drive economic and social transformation on the continent. My vision is to catalyze an ecosystem that fosters Innovation, social entrepreneurship and excellence in Africa. I'm reading this rapport and it's very insightful. I wish to participate in a research that can help express the mindsets and character traits that the young african of today has to develop to thrive and excel in this era of globalization, competition, scarcity of resources, creativity and IT

Paul Nyambe
April 16, 2014

Enabling the youth to create their own solutions to their challenges could be the most effective strategy in dealing with the issue of youth unemployment in today's entrepreneurial world.Let us face the facts:The large and labor-intensive industries with high employment potentials are no longer the mainstay of the world economies; Government jobs alone are far from making a dent on the unemployment crisis given their limited numbers against the fast bulging youth population. But we have a new reality on the ground: There is a strong wave of entrepreneurial dynamism sweeping across economies and especially among the youth, courtesy of diminishing third-party-created economic opportunities. This therefore calls on all stakeholders on the plight of the youth to refine their approaches for the most appropriate and sustainable gains of their effort. Moreover, promoting and supporting the youth in their entrepreneurial activities so as to enhance their growth and sustainability prospects shall in fact not only be helping them to create their own jobs but also enabling them to be key social and economic players in their respective societies.