Development boss: ‘Training in Africa does not meet business needs’

A woman sells vegetables on a street in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea. [David Trainer/Flickr]

Africa’s rapidly growing population has made youth employment a major issue. While businesses are offering increasing numbers of jobs, agriculture will continue to be the main source of employment for young people, Céline Gratadour told EURACTIV France.

Céline Gratadour is the head of the French Development Agency’s Education and Professional Training project. She took part in the conference Employment for tomorrow in continental Africa: what opportunities for young people?, which was held in Paris on 25 and 26 April.

Gratadour spoke to EURACTIV.fr’s Cécile Barbière.

Africa is the region with the highest proportion of young people in the world. What is the situation in terms of youth employment?

Unemployment as such does not exist in Africa, where we speak more often about “NEETs”, young people who are not in education, employment or training and are really discouraged by their situation. This is the most representative indicator of youth unemployment in Africa, particularly in North Africa, where young people have invested a lot in their studies.

And there is a strong distinction to be made between the Maghreb region and sub-Saharan Africa. In the Maghreb countries, youth unemployment is high because one-third of young people do not have jobs. In sub-Saharan Africa, on the other hand, poverty is the factor that attains dizzying heights, with 70% of young people living on less than $3.10 per day. But all young people work to support their families. The main problem is the quality of the work and the amount it pays.

Around 30 million young people arrive on the African labour market each year. So we need to achieve unprecedented levels of job creation. The economic and social stakes are immensely high and young people between the ages of 15 and 29 have never been better educated or connected. This is a real opportunity.

In Africa, what are the specific difficulties that young women have to face in order to get jobs?

Even if women today have much better access to education in Africa, they still come up against huge difficulties in accessing the labour market, especially when it comes to maintaining their position once they get pregnant.

When they want to found their own companies, they are told they cannot. They encounter much more difficulty in raising funds and accessing the networks that are indispensable to a successful business. In rural areas, another obstacle women face is access to the land. And there is still the weight of family expectation and the highly gendered roles of men and women, even if these have evolved in the right direction.

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The African population will continue to grow very quickly. Will the existing education systems be able to cope with this challenge?

We will not be able to make any progress on employment if the people do not know how to read or write, are uneducated and have no skills.

Today, the gamble of providing large-scale access to education in Africa has more or less proved a success, with very high rates of primary education. But the big issues for tomorrow are more concentrated in secondary education, where there is far less investment from international donors. Many questions remain to be answered over the quality of the education and the training of the teachers.

And there are also real issues surrounding higher education and professional training in Africa, because many programmes are completely disconnected from the needs of businesses and the realities of work. For example, in Nigeria, there is strong demand in the electricity sector, because it has been privatised. But the system of professional training has remained under public management and has not evolved with the needs of the sector. The teachers have no experience in business, the students have no practical training, etc. Which leads to a total disconnect between people in training and their future employers.

Are the aspirations of Africa’s young people today in line with the kinds of jobs the continent has to offer?

There is a big gap between the aspirations of young people, the perception and expectations of families and the realities of the labour market. There is also a problem of correlating the skills people acquire and the needs of the market. In reality, there is very little formal work available.

For example in the Maghreb countries, lots of young people want to enter the civil service but there are fewer and fewer public sector jobs. The lack of opportunity has a very strong demoralising effect. A consequence of this is that it kills innovation. It kills young people’s confidence and their dreams.

How do you explain this gap between supply and demand?

Young people are not well informed about the realities of work. The public information services on employment and training are, themselves, disconnected from the private sector, so they are ineffective in Africa.

In Ivory Coast, the French Development Agency (AFD) is helping in the reform of the country’s youth employment agency. One of the areas of cooperation is the reform of the information system. We realised that the website offered a very low number of CVs and job opportunities, around 80. But in parallel, we also met a start-up that managed to collect 18,000 CVs and job offers to test its platform.

This young entrepreneur met Barack Obama in Davos, but in his own country, he has not even managed to act as a link for the public authorities. The AFD is trying to bring these two worlds together.

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A majority of young Africans still live in rural areas. But agriculture seems to hold little attraction for young people. How can this be changed?

Our view is clear: agriculture and the rural environment will be the biggest source of jobs in the years to come. But today, young people only come back to agriculture after failing to achieve some other project in the city. This has many consequences. Young people are not returning to the land by choice, but out of need, so they are not motivated. And as it is often the families that push young people to go out in search of a better life, there is also an effect of disappointment for their entourage.

What is more, young people are often not trained in how to get the best from their land and diversify their businesses. We need to ensure they are better informed about the difficulties and opportunities of the business and are ready to work on the perception of the farming profession.

Entrepreneurship is often presented as a lever with which to fight unemployment among young people in Africa. Is this really the case?

Africa’s young people are entrepreneurs because they cannot afford not to work. Everyone has their own little stalls where they sell vegetables and sim cards. But there is a difference between the subsistence entrepreneur and the business entrepreneur, who creates jobs.

People often say that entrepreneurs will save Africa. This is not true. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurialism offers great opportunities but it cannot be the only answer. Today, there is also a whole entrepreneurial ecosystem that needs to be developed. The banking system, for example, is underdeveloped.

This interview is published in partnership with the ID4D blog, coordinated by the French Development Agency.